Category Archives: Daegu

Snow on Kimchi Pots

Something brought the memory rushing back this morning – a smell? a sound? the taste of the air? Suddenly, overwhelmingly, I was back in my small, warm apartment in Daegu, looking out of the window on a snowy morning.

Kimchi pots. Kimchi is the tangy, spicy, fermented-cabbage taste that pretty much¬†is¬†South Korea. It’s an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it, it stays with you. Years after leaving Korea, I still crave kimchi from time to time.

Most families make their own kimchi according to old family recipes. Kimchi is traditionally fermented in big clay pots. “Pots” in the sense of traditional African clay pots, not pots you use on a stove. The kimchi pots are traditionally kept on the flat roof of the building during the cold winter months. Wealthy modern Koreans may have a dedicated kimchi fridge for making kimchi. Most people, however, still keep the traditional pots on the roof.

From my window, I look out at the roof next door. Just down the street, the wind is ringing the bell at the little suburban temple. On the roof, a blanket of snow lies heavy and white across the brown kimchi pots. It’s the first thing I look at on a snowy morning, standing here in my little apartment with my morning coffee.

A sudden vivid memory on a chilly early-winter morning.

The last time I saw Autumn…

The seasons are beginning to turn again. Mornings are chilly and the late Summer mists have come to Stutterheim. I watch the swallows patching up their nest and wonder how much longer they’ll be here. Soon it will be Autumn.

Autumn is the last season that got lost along the way in changing back and forth between south to north. The first was Spring. I left the south in crisp mid-Winter and went to late Summer there, and then Autumn and the Winter. No wonder, looking back, the Spring was so, so precious when it finally came. Autumn was lost in my return. I’ve never been a huge fan of Autumn. The end of Summer, the cold’s return. But you get to missing it, when it’s been such a while.

Morning spider-webs outlined in late Summer dew, beads of glistening beauty strung between the branches. Autumn. The last time I saw Autumn, it was pretty spectacular. The colours of Autumn are beautiful in places with summer forests. The leaves all change at the same time. I spent many weekend days visiting parks and places full of autumn colours. The reds and yellows and oranges were so much more spectacular than I had known before. More trees, more trees turning at exactly the same time. It was a sight to see. And colder, more quickly. Colder than some winters here.

The last time I saw Autumn feels like a lifetime ago. Who was it who talked about the idea of the double joy of the travel itself and remembering the travel later? I’m finally far enough away to remember without the bitterness and the homesickness, perhaps with rose-coloured glasses. This new Autumn that is beginning, will never match up to that one, that time, that place.

Summer is so precious here. This past Summer has been one of such joy – the hot, dry summer, the perfect beaches, the summer thunderstorms, the joy of Africa. The Winters I love will always be white-dry grass, frosty mornings and red, red aloes. But Autumn belongs to Korea. To bossum and buying warm coats and hiking boots and tree-covered hills and the slanting light of the setting sun through oranges and reds and yellows at Duryu Park.

Autumn comes slowly, gently to South Africa. Colours change in fits and starts, some trees rushing ahead, others still finding their colour by the time winter is half over. It’s still pretty and its coming brings the circle to a close for me. Autumn is always a time of endings, of contemplation. My Autumns are now a time of memories, of taking out my year abroad and polishing it up and revisiting the pictures and the words and putting it away again, in perspective; an important, if difficult, time, a year of autumn leaves and icy days and snow and new friends, a home I can return to in my mind. A home I carry with me and remember, especially for Autumn.

Park’s Menu

After a year of Korean food (sometimes unwillingly), I came home and found myself missing it. Since then, I have struggled to find a Korean restaurant anywhere. To be fair, I haven’t spent a lot of time in major metropolises and I haven’t tried as hard as I possibly could, but I was still very pleased when I discovered that there was a Korean restaurant around the corner from the guest-house where I was staying this past week.

Park’s Menu is a small restaurant on Klipfontein Road (Durban Road) in Mowbray, Cape Town (Campground Centre for those who are familiar with the area). It’s bigger, inside, than it appears from the street. Chairs and walls are white, with collections of odd, old wall-cabinets decorated with old books and china and flowers, creating a comfortable, airy feel. The place is a little quirky, but not in any way pretentious or annoying. Gentle jazz in the background completes the relaxed, warm atmosphere. It’s a bit of an oasis on a busy road.

The menu is properly Korean, ranging from manduguk and bibimbap to galbi and ssambap. Also, a take-away menu that says “there is more dish if you eat at the reastaurant”. I was standing outside, reading the menu in the window when the waiter came out and handed me a take-away menu. I think he was a bit taken aback when I immediately said I was coming inside.

I sat at a pretty white table next to the window. The waiter was super-friendly and efficient and, interestingly, not Korean, although all of the other staff do seem to be Korean. I took ages to order – how do you choose when you haven’t eaten any Korean food in 8 months and you know you won’t be back soon? Eventually I settled on mandu for starters and haemeul pajeon for mains.

As I waited, it struck me that the place smelled Korean. Not overwhelmingly and not in a bad way. It’s a smell that is difficult to describe but I think probably has something to do with bean sprouts and tofu. I never noticed that in Korea but it triggered such strong memories of so many Korean dinners.

The mandu (steamed dumplings) was great. Just the way I remember it. And distinctly different to the dimsum you get at other places. It’s tough to identify exactly the difference but I think it’s the filling. And the dumpling bit is softer. Also, joy of joys, proper chopsticks. Not metal chopsticks, sadly, but flat chopsticks, the shape of the Korean metal chopsticks. So much better than other chopsticks!

The haemeul pajeon (seafood pancake, but that translation is wrong and I have yet to find a better one) was great. Apparently it’s the chef’s speciality. It was thicker than I’m used to, which made it a little difficult to cut with chopsticks, but it was delicious. The mains come with kimchi and beansprouts (namul). Nothing quite like the spicy, sour, crunchy, juicy joy of fermented cabbage. Nothing in the whole world. It’s definitely an acquired taste but once you’re used to it, it can be really good. This was good kimchi. Not too spicy, perfectly crunchy and sour.

The restaurant also has, specially imported from Korea, tables with the stove-top grill so typical of restaurants in Korea. It’s a great way to eat. There is a particular stove-top table section on the menu. If you’re up for spicy food, try the kimchi-jeongol. Or (less spicy) the Bulgogi (delicious beef stew).

They also have a Korean-food buffet once a month – 12 March 2011 is the next one – which would be a great opportunity to experiment if you’ve never tried Korean food. The menu doesn’t offer alcoholic drinks (so strange to eat Korean food without Hite or Cass) but they seem fine with people bringing their own wine (corkage R25).

I’m delighted to have found a great Korean restaurant in South Africa and will definitely be back. Just thinking about it now, I’m wishing I was close enough to pop through for lunch. If you’ve never tried Korean food, or you haven’t eaten kimchi in a while, Park’s Menu is a great place to spend some time and enjoy the tastes of kimchi-land.