Snacks to try in a Korean Convenience Store

So hopefully on your tour of Korea, you come here eating the best Korean food for your breakfast, lunch and dinner. But then there’s late at night when you are sitting in your hotel and wanting something quick to take back to your suite. There are convenient stores all over Korea. Pretty much on every major street corner you will find one, from the global chains to the local ones.

A lot of you will find your basic staples like Coca-cola, Minute Maid Orange Juice and Lays Potato Chips. But there’s a whole world of good eats sitting on the shelves that you probably would never even think of. Simply because you can’t read the labels or they look just so weird! No worries, we are here to help. I will walk us through a convenient store in Korea to talk about the things you shouldn’t miss out on. Or more importantly, what you should avoid!

 

1. Sahm-gak (Triangle) Kimbap: Traditional kimbap comes in rolls like something you might see in sushi. These are made in the triangle form, or sam-gak. They are basically sticky rice stuffed with different kinds of goodness, like beef, chicken, pork and other great things. There are the spicy and non-spicy. Veggie, tuna etc. And they are all wrapped in seaweed lavers to keep them nice and compact. Nice and cheap and great for on-the-go meals or simply a late night snack.

Pay attention to the instructions and illustrations on the back on how to open the packaging up. Otherwise you’ll end up unravelling the whole kimbap on yourself defeating the very purpose of its convenience!

Try the Mayo Tuna featured on this pic. My favorite.

Mayonnaise Tuna Triangle Kimbap

 

2. Doh-she-rahk: Or lunch boxes..but you can have them any time of the day. These are a meal in itself. Comes with rice, meat of choice and a set of side dishes (banchan) and are even more cheaper than going to a restaurant and getting the same thing. The quality of these things have gotten so much better and are the fastest growing items in convenience stores. Demand for cheaper quick meals and the rise of solo eaters have made a market for these. Also celebrity chefs have come up with their own recipes to help boost the appeal of these. Go before lunch and you will see these things piled up in the refrigerated section.

Black rice with spicy pork

 

3. Drinks: What you probably won’t figure out is the tea section. There are all sorts of teas that are extracts from Korean raisins to whiskers of corn husks. All of them are good for you and you can drink them as if they were just non-caloric flavored water. There are also the ones that are made for men, but quite frankly anyone can drink them. You won’t be disappointed with any one of the. As for my favourite drink, it’s a soft-drinks called Milkis. It’s basically like an A&W Cream Soda except its more milkier as the name might suggest.

Definitely a lot of stuff you won’t find back home but that’s what you are out here for, right? To try something new!
Women: Avoid this one at all costs! The character says man. This will grow you balls and chest hair. Just kidding! But yes, marketed to men.

 

 

 

 

 

Kok Kok! Kok

 

 

 

 

4. Ramyeon:  You will find that there is one whole section dedicated simply to ramyeon. Take your pick. I personally like the spicy ones but there are a lot of other good ones without all that kick. Then there are the soupy ramyeons and then the dry ones where you are supposed to drain the water out like the Kok-kok-kok series from the Oddugi brand. You fill them up with hot water just like any other instant noodles. But before you mix in the sauce, make sure to drain the water by lifting up the tag on the cover. Also there are special sections inside the convenient store where you can get hot water as well as dump out the broth in a garbage can.

5. Single-pack Ice cream: You can usually find these in refrigerators just outside the doors of the convenient store. There’s tons to pick from and you probably can’t go wrong with any of them unless you think that uhm, red beans shouldn’t be…sweet. (just want to remind one another of 3 words: Boston baked beans) Anyway, ice cream in Korea is served year round, yes and including winter. And, yes it gets extremely cold here. Remember, we are hosting the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, so it has to. And have you ever tried eating ice cream in the middle of winter? It’s not so bad and can be euphoric!

Just imagine: You are walking outside and it feels cold on the outside of your body. The inside of your body is warm. But then you eat ice cream. Your body on the inside is getting colder. Now since the outside of your body is cold and the inside of your body is cold, what happens next? Magic. You don’t actually feel cold anymore because the relative feeling of cold is less extreme. Got it? Now try it!

 

Oh yeah and talking about which ice cream to get…I personally love the watermelon ice cream. It’s got 3 different flavors all into one ice cream bar. It’s cut into a watermelon triangle and starts out by biting into the red watermelon flavored part of the ice cream – Awesome! The next thing you will notice is the seeds of the watermelon ice cream. They are made from chocolate covered nuts. And then lastly, is the watermelon rind which is a great finale to it because of its stark contrast in flavor against everything else – melon! Trust me, it all goes wonderfully together.

Su-bak Ba (Watermelon Bar)
Sorry, I couldn’t wait. Had to take a bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we can get into the classic must haves too, like banana flavored milk or honey butter chips, but I think there’s already been a ton written about those. You can also get a hot cup of brewed coffee for less than a buck from a machine. You can also get them iced by pouring pouch coffee into a cup of ice the convenient store gives you in the freezer section.

But if you say you’ve got a handle on Korean snacks in convenient stores and are ready for some expert level stuff, try concocting the Mark Special. If you need help translating or want to discover other great recipes, contacting one of our tour guides here.

They just sellin’ cups of ice??

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes Tourists make when visiting Korea (part 1 of 2)

So I’ve been a tour guide in Korea for a while now. During these years, I’ve seen a common pattern of tourist behavior. There’s the good, the ugly and then the totally innocent mistakes. I have jotted down what I believe are the top 10 common (and honest) mistakes they make when coming to Korea.

We all have our share of honest mistakes we do when going overseas simply because we are not privy to the local culture. We may or may not even be aware of them because they can be so subtle.  Hopefully there can be more of these posts to pinpoint faux pas in other countries. Here I list out the first of five in no particular order. The second 5 are here.

    1. The bill – Many times on tours, I’m at restaurants eating with the tourists. At the end of the meal, there’s always this awkward silence. At first I’m thinking, “Do they not like the food?? Or are they suggesting to split the bill? Then I think oh man, “I forgot to tell them! They don’t know about the bill culture in Korea”. Call it part of our culture or just call it the way things are done here. In restaurants in the western world, the waitresses will bring the check to you. You then pay at the table. In restaurants in Korea, you pay for the bill at the front counter from where you came in. Tourists not otherwise knowing will wait to pay the check at the table…and they will sit there all day.

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      Don’t just sit there…Do something!
    2. Crossing the street – I hear it all the time. This blaring alarm when I cross the street. Usually in major tourist areas. Someone did it again…I remember when I lived in the United States, when you wanted to get a green light to cross the street, you would have to push the button on the lamp. That would signal the stop lights to turn red so that pedestrians could cross the street. In Korea, the very location where that crossing button would be is another button designated for blind people. They push that button to get an audio on when they can cross the road. Honest mistakes I know. Newbies always press the disabled person’s button when trying to cross the road.

      These are not the crosswalk buttons you are looking for..
      These are not the crosswalk buttons you are looking for..
    3. Stepping on the ondol floors with shoes – I know, it almost looks like a step. So if I’m not the front leading the tour group, tourists will just step right onto the ondol floors in restaurants. This is where you are supposed to sit and eat. Honest mistake and it’s something that I take for granted. But I realize it’s not straight forward at all for the newbie. In a lot of restaurants in Korea, diners have the option to eat on the floor as opposed to the normal tables and chairs. Koreans like this option because we like to feel the heat on our butts. So again, this ondol floor looks like a step and tourists will walk right on it with their shoes if they are not forewarned. You are supposed to take off your shoes before stepping up there because you are going to be sitting on that floor. Usually it happens more often in big group tours where someone wasn’t listening on the bus.

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      Maybe it’s the color of the shoes against the backdrop of this floor…
    4. The exchange rate – Everyone gets ripped off with the exchange rate in every country I know. The issue is how much will you get ripped off. When I go around Korea on my tours, I always take notice of the USD/KRW exchange rate. The worst places to go:  Never exchange money at any bank, no matter how reputable it is. Never exchange money at the front desk of your hotel. I wouldn’t even exchange money at the airport for petty cash because most places will take credit cards on the way. The best rate in Korea can be exchanged at the currency stand directly in front of the Chinese Embassy in Myeongdong. There are other currency stands in Myeongdong with decent rates (and better than hotels and banks), but I’m telling you where the best one is. In fact, there are times where I went to the place across the Chinese Embassy and they gave me a better rate than what I saw on Googling the “USD to KRW” rate concurrently.

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      Find this stand directly across the Chinese Embassy in Myeongdong. It’s located behind the Post Office Towers there. Look for the red walls you see in the background of this picture.
    5. The escalators – There is this de facto rule in Korea. It states that all escalators have 2 lanes. The lane on the left is for walking up or down the escalator and the one on the right is for people who want to stand. The official rule though is to stand on both left and right. There are those that claim that walking on just one side damages the escalators and so requires frequent maintenance and tax money. So yes, sometimes you will be stuck behind someone who chooses to stand in the left lane or it might just be another tourist. But most people will agree that Seoul is a busy city and that the people are always on the go. And that time is the most precious thing in the entire world (not our tax dollars). So try to be conscious of this when using escalators in Korea.

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      Walk left, stand right..

Hope you enjoyed these and are well aware now for you trip to Korea. Come back next week when I list out the final 5 completing the top 10 list of common mistakes by tourists in Korea.

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Guts, Glory, and Ramen Noodles: Online Gaming in Korea

“Noooooooooo!!!” you hear MakNooN howling as one of our clients kills his Champion. MakNooN is a professional online gamer and the game is League of Legends (LoL). LoL is a multi-player game played online and in Korea LoL has a massive following and manic subculture. MakNooN is one of the highest-ranking LoL pro gamers in the world and he offers LoL coaching through his YouTube page.

Our latest clients were avid gamers and we wanted to create a gaming experience as part of their trip itinerary in Korea.

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MakNooN and our gamers

Korea is a hotbed for breeding talented, up-and-coming gamers. We called in MakNooN to host a casual tournament and coaching session with some of our clients at a PC café in the Gangnam district. Our clients were interested in the unique presence gaming has in Korea, a country where you can make a living by playing video games.

The first hour was spent setting up our clients at their computer stations on the Korean servers and making sure their headsets were functional. The headsets are necessary to be able to communicate directions to other team members (it’s also a lot of fun to trash talk during the competitions). A typical team in LoL has five members. We only had four clients, but we filled the last position with a random high-level player on the LoL Korean servers. We also invited a local team to come out as the opposing team to really create the atmosphere of an actual competition. The gaming session was divided into two parts. The first part was practice with MakNooN as the coach and following a quick noodle delivery to the PC café for lunch, the second part commenced, the mock tournament.

MakNooN the coach
MakNooN the coach

Dark underground room, brightly lit screens, the click clack of mechanical keyboards, and the slurping sounds of gamers eating their noodles mid game. For me the land of gaming is unknown territory. Playing Diablo, Age of Empires, and the Sims was the extent of my gaming experience. The gaming community is actually quite large and the demographic has a wide range of ages and professions. League of Legends is one game that is loved by office workers in their 30s and middle school kids alike. Developed by the game company Riot Games, LoL has a huge following in South Korea and the best of the best are selected to play on teams competitively in national and international e-sport tournaments. Currently, SK T1 is the top team in Korea and arguably in the entire world. The latter half of the tour included watching them compete.

Yongsan eStadium
Yongsan eStadium

Esports have their own season of competition in Korea and major corporations like Samsung and LG sponsor the teams. We entered Yongsan E-stadium, a venue dedicated to hosting online gaming competitions. On either ends of the stadium there are glass atriums with five computer stations where players take their positions. In the middle of the stadium, there is an enormous jumbotron screen showing the entire gaming action taking place while commentators below provide an endless stream of rapid-fire analysis. If you didn’t know where you were, you would think they’d be commentating on Monday night football based on the frenzied atmosphere. Responding to all this, you also have a huge audience of super fans going crazy in a sold out stadium cheering on their favorite teams. In the end, SK T1 sweeps the main event and retains their title. SK T1 is the undefeated champion of the current season. We got our clients exclusive access following the match to meet their online hero Faker, the SK T1 player who is heralded as the Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan of LoL. Clutching their freshly autographed neck strap and beaming at the selfie they took with their favorite LoL player, it was easy to see that our clients had the time of their lives.

Autograph from Faker
Autograph from Faker!

Anyone can participate in this gaming experience in Korea. Whether you’re a diehard LoL fan like our clients or just an explorer of subcultures like me, I guarantee that the whirlwind enthusiasm of gamers in Korea will have you captivated.

How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

I finally got out to visit one of the many ice fishing festivals that take place in Korea’s wintertime. Through one of my tours, I was able to take a group to the Jaraseom Sing Sing Ice Fishing Festival in Gapyeong. The things to do here is to catch fresh water trout and eat it immediately! Many back and forth thoughts on these festivals, but the bottom line is that they are just flat out fun! There are at least half a dozen ice fishing festivals taking place in parts of Gangwon and Gyeong-gi Provinces right now and will mostly end sometime towards the last weekend in February. I came onto a lesser advertised festival called the Jaraseom Sing Sing Winter Festival near Nami Island in Gapyeong just a little over an hour from Seoul.

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When we got there, they let us park on an empty field. Because its not paved, watch out for puddles and mud when walking towards the festival’s main area. Walk towards the ticket booth to get your entry into the frozen stream. Tickets were 13,000 won (a little less than $13), but they give you a 5,000 won gift certificate to be used on anything at the festival, including food and fishing equipment.

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As you are walking towards there, several things come to mind. On one hand you are wowed by the shear number of people standing on top of that frozen pond. And to think, there are drilled holes in the ice about 3 meters from one another where you stick your fishing rods in to catch fish, so the ice has to be super thick.

On the other hand, you notice that there is a massive river right next to the pond and NONE of which is frozen at all! What’s up with that?? That’s when things start to kick in about the authenticity of the ice festival. Being on the 38th parallel, we have volatile weather conditions, so its not going to be frozen over the entire winter. Instead we artificially freeze the part of the stream to ensure the safety that no one plops through.

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Authentic or not, it’s not the point of the festival as there are still tons of people out there having a great time. So as soon as you pay for your entrance, follow these instructions to get the most out of your ice fishing experience:

1. They’ll give you a sticker ticket and a fastener. Loop the fastener into one of your zippers and peel the sticker portion of your ticket onto it, much like you would for a ski lift ticket. Make sure it’s visible for the personnel to see. A picture of the ticket is shown at the top of this post.

Continue reading How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..

I’ve lived in Seoul for a while now, but it’s only been recent that I have become aware about some of these nuances. Expats may know some, but tourists most definitely will not. As a tour guide, it’s my job to let them know.

1. They’re here!! It’s not some Poltergeist movie, but it could be.

samsungeverywhere

In Korean society today, Samsung is omnipresent. Obviously we know them as the tech giant that makes all of our smart phones and televisions. But did you know that the wonderful new couple you met last week might have been married by Samsung?

If you stand in the middle of Seoul right now and do a 360 degree turn, you will see that they are just about everywhere. You may even see that they might be looking right back at you. Albeit, branded differently.

Today, you can have a baby born in a Samsung Medical Center. You can have that baby grow up in a Samsung apartment (Samsung Remien). They can be clothed by Samsung (Beanpole, 8 Seconds and FUBU??). They can play at Samsung (Everland Theme Park). They can attend a Samsung school and graduate from a Samsung university (Sungkyungkwan University).

When they grow up they can work at any of the Samsung affiliated companies. They can be insured by Samsung Insurance and buy stocks through Samsung Securities. They can drive a Samsung car (SM) and stay at a Samsung hotel (Shilla). And all of this can be bought with a Samsung credit card!

Hell…you can even be buried by Samsung..

muahahaha..

2. Hazard Lights, a universal language or mental telepathy.

parking attendants in Korea

Why is everyone putting on their hazard lights? When driving in Korea, there is a subculture of communication and sub-context that people know but many other people might not get right away. The flashing of hazards have many meanings here.

a. I’m looking for a parking spot. Usually when entering into a large crowded garage parking lot, you’ll find parking attendants showing you where to go. In order to let them know you are looking for a spot, put your blinkers on. Otherwise they might show you the way out.

And if they do, don’t go crazy on them and do what these wannabe chaebol heiresses did.

b. I’m sorry.  When driving mistakes happen. Accidentally cut someone off? *Blinkers* Don’t want to wait in the long line to the next exit? Cut to the front, but remember to use those *Blinkers*

c. Thank you;; When that someone finally lets you cut through the line bypassing the other 200 cars behind it, show some gratitude by turning on the emergency lights. It also shows you have an ounce of remorse in your soul for committing such a heinous act.

d. I see somethings not right ahead. Let’s ALL slow down.. And as soon as you see the blinkers go off in the car in front of you, you should do the same thing to alert the cars behind you. This is probably because there is something in your lane and this is the warning before you might have to slam on the brakes!

3. Honey, I love you…but for the ten billionth time, LEAVE THE TOILET SEAT UP!! – And that’s what SHE said!

put-the-toilet-seat-up

Huh?? That’s right. You heard it here. In Korea, its good manners to leave the toilet seat up rather than down for the ladies. Ever seen a Korean bathroom? Most likely the toilet, sink and shower are all in the same place without separation. After taking a shower, who wants to sit on a wet toilet seat? Guys, be a gentleman and leave the toilet seat up for your woman.

Continue reading 5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..