염통 – Barbecued chicken hearts

Continuing my Korean culinary adventure, last night’s delicacy was grilled chicken hearts (염통). They were cooked in a sweet, sticky BBQ marinade and served on skewers. For a bargain price of 5,000 KRW (£2.75) we got five skewers, each with four hearts. We also had mushrooms wrapped in samgyeopsal (thick cut bacon), boneless chicken feet, deok (Korean rice cake) and dalkgalbi with melted cheese (stir fried chicken in a mouth-scorchingly spicy sauce).

Nom nom nom

Once I managed to get the image of Chicken Licken out of my head they were surprisingly quite good, a bit like really dark chicken meat. However, as with most of these things they did need quite a lot of chewing, washed down with a mouthful of Cass.

As my friend told me, eating the heart of your enemy makes you grow stronger. In that case, bring it on chickens…

Not looking too convinced at this point…

Korean drinking etiquette

Well, it’s Sunday afternoon and I am unfortunately suffering from a soju-induced 숙취 (hangover). After going out with some of our Korean friends last night now seems like the right time to climb out from under the duvet, stop watching K-dramas, let go of the water bottle, and write about Korean drinking etiquette.

Everyone knows that Koreans are fond of a drink or two at the end of a long, hard day at work. What is easy to forget however, is that the same social hierarchy rules still apply even when you’re all pie-eyed, holding each other up, and swaying unsteadily to Hey Jude in a norebang at 5am. As a foreigner you will of course be forgiven for not knowing all the rules, but if you do try and follow them you will earn major brownie points!

  • Never pour your own drink. Likewise, never let anyone else pour their own drink. Let them pour for you and then when their glass is empty (and not before!) you can return the favour. According to an old wives tale, if you leave someone with an empty glass for too long you curse them with an unhappy marriage…no pressure then.
  • There are three (yes, really) ways to hold the bottle when you pour. Firstly, if you’re pouring for your boss or an elder, you should hold it with both hands. For someone who is of a similar status as you, you can hold the bottle with your right hand and support your forearm with your left hand. Lastly, you can hold the bottle just with your right hand if it’s someone younger than you or a very close friend. The same rules apply for holding your glass when someone is pouring for you, and pretty much whenever you give or receive something in Korea.
  • Never decline a drink from the first round, you’ll ruin the atmosphere for everyone else. Drinking is a very important way of socialising here, so if you turn down a drink you might be seen as unsociable.
  • If you are drinking with your boss or someone of a higher social rank than you, it is polite to either turn your back or put your hand up to cover your glass while taking a drink. This stems from the idea that young people shouldn’t drink, but even when you’re ‘allowed’ you should still be discreet.
  • You can drink anytime, any place. Seriously. There are no laws against public drinking like we have in England. Similarly, drinking yourself into a stupor is not a weekend activity here, it happens every night of the week.
  • And the golden rule; the events of that night are never to be discussed the next morning. In fact, the only evidence of the evening’s frivolities are the delightfully named ‘kimchi flowers’, left splattered all over the pavement.

Holding the bottle and glass with two hands

St. Patricks Day 2012

It’s that time of year again, when anyone who’s Irish, or whose great-grandma’s sister’s cousin’s dog is Irish, uses March 17th as an excuse for a massive party.

Each year the Irish Association of Korea organises a festival in honour of the patron saint of Ireland, and this year it was held at Sindorim’s D-Cube City Plaza, just outside the subway station. The party started at 12.30, but most people had been on the Guinness for a while by then! The weather was beautiful, it’s finally starting to feel like Spring here, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many waygookin in one place!

There was live music all day including a Korean U2 tribute band (?), traditional Irish music, Irish dancing, face painting, a sad Korean clown (?), and a whole lot of Guinness! So much beer that by the time we arrived at 2pm all of the mini-marts in the surrounding area had sold out of beer and we had to trek to Homeplus just to find any.

The festival finished at around 6pm and we headed en masse to Itaewon to continue the party. At 3am, after 13 hours of festivities and far too much maekju, we decided to call it a night and head back to Incheon. All in all a great day, made all the better by a 30-9 victory over Ireland in the rugby!

My guide to Korean cuisine

Korea has such a wide and varied cuisine, and it would be impossible to cover all the different types of bulgogi, galbi, and jigae in this post, but these are just some of our favorite Korean dishes!


What makes japchae so much better than other noodle dishes is the type of noodles used. They are called ‘glass noodles’ or dang myeon and are made from sweet potato starch. The noodles are stir fried with sliced vegetables, like carrots, mushrooms, and spinach, in sesame oil and soy sauce and topped off with a few sesame seeds. Japchae is probably my favorite Korean food so far!


Galbi literally means ‘ribs’ in Korean, and is usually beef or pork, although dakgalbi (chicken meat) is also popular. The meat is marinated in soy, garlic, and sugar and is brought to the table raw for you to cook it yourself. In the middle of the table is a grill over hot coals and you cook it barbecue style. Galbi comes with an array of banchan (side dishes) which vary at different restaurants, but they usually include lettuce leaves, garlic, shredded onions, pickled radish, kimchi, and a couple of soups and dipping sauces.

Shabu shabu

The perfect winter warmer, shabu shabu is Korea’s answer to a Lancashire hot pot. A big, bubbling pot of spicy vegetable soup is placed in the middle of the table over a burner. First round; the meat. Again DIY style, pieces of thinly sliced, semi-frozen beef are thrown into the pot to cook for a few seconds then dipped in a sesame sauce, yum yum! After the meat comes the noodles, which are also put in the soup to cook and soak up the spiciness. Lastly, the soup is poured off into a bowl and fried rice is cooked in the pot, in the remnants of the soup. It is a pretty big meal anjd you have to be really hungry to properly appreciate shabu shabu, but it’s another personal favorite!


Gimbap seems to be one of those foods that can be eaten anytime. My co-teachers often have it for breakfast, a snack at lunchtime, or at picnics. It is made from rice (bap), and various fillings like cucmber, pickled radish, squid, spam or cheese, rolled in gim (sheets of dried laver seaweed).


Another street food, and one of Nath’s absolute favorites, mandu are steamed Korean dumplings. They usually have a pork or kimchi filling, and are normally about the size of a tennis ball. They are served with a soy sauce and vinegar dipping sauce. Even if you can’t read Korean, mandu street stalls are instantly recognisable by the huge, steaming vats outside.


An eternal favourite with Korean schoolchildren, tteokbokki is sold on almost every street corner. In its simplest form it is just bitesize pieces of white rice cake in a red, spicy sauce, although tteokbokki with seafood, noodles, sausage or cheese are also very common.


Samgyeopsal is fatty pork belly meat, like thick bacon, and is cooked in a similar way to galbi. It is one of the most popular meals in Korea, with apparently 70% of Koreans eating it at least once a week. The name literally means three (sam) layered (gyeop) flesh (sal) and unlike galbi is not seasoned or marinated. Samgyeopsal also comes with a range of banchan including lettuce leaves, perilla leaves, green chilli peppers, garlic, onions and kimchi.

Chicken and beer

Hardly a traditional dish but fried chicken and beer is hugely popular in Korea, with a chicken ‘hof’ (bar) every few yards. Fried chicken is rarely a meal in itself but is served as a drinking snack (anju) and for this reason is often referred to as chi-maek (chicken and maekju – beer). KFC (Korean fried chicken) can be either with sauce or without, but I prefer it without. Chicken fried in rice instead of wheat flour is also becoming very popular here.