Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jimjilbang blues

symbol for jimjilbang
Let's get naked folks! Did I just say that? Yeah! Let's get down in our birthday suits and enjoy a warm bath, because baby, it's cold outside! ~

On what happens to be a cold winter's day towards the end of a long dry winter in central Cali, all I can think about is jimjilbang. Jimjilbang is a Korean sauna or bathhouse. How I wish there were an equivalent nearby. You can find a jimjilbang in almost any town in Korea. You go there to shower and enjoy saunas, hot rooms, cold rooms, hot tubs, game rooms, food, friendship, etc.

There are so many perks to jimjilbangs, you'd have to go to one yourself to discover them all!

First, why wouldn't you want to go to one? Let's settle your fears and concerns.

Q: I'm afraid of revealing my birthday suit in public.  Aren't they going to look at me?  
A:  Well, all the other foreigners are just as concerned as you are and yes, the locals may check you out a little. Maybe an old ahjumma or halmoni (grandmother-aged figure) will give you some looks. Be proud of being different! (Luckily, I'm a pure Korean blooded foreigner that gets to blend in.) I'm sure you'll find it in yourself to come to terms with the experience. Don't worry.
Q: Isn't it too dirty and unsanitary to bathe in public with several others?  
A:  The cleaning ahjummas have you covered. They are always cleaning and scrubbing down the shower room, at least in my favorite jimjilbang.
Q: You can sleep there? Isn't it unsafe to sleep in public?
A: It can be considered unsafe, but find yourself a nice little corner of a room or better yet!!!  Go with your friends and chat it up 'til the rising of the sun!
Awaiting the sunrise from a jimjilbang in Busan.
Q: Do I have to wear those funny clothes? 
A: Yes, they give the guys and girls a set of jimjilbang-wear.  You wear these clothes outside of the shower/hot tub.

If you're afraid of how it looks, see how the characters in the recent popular Korean dramas Secret Garden and Dream High sported their clothes.

~Secret Garden~
Joo Won (Hyunbin) and Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) are a bit
upset after they discover their bodies have been switched.

~Dream High~
The students needed a place to practice their routine.
What place could be better than a jimjilbang?
Don't these stars look great with their jimjilbang wear?  Embrace the opportunity to be as cool as them and put on some jimjilbang clothes today!  

To be honest, these were all of my fears.  I couldn't bear to think about undressing in front of others or being exposed to someone else's dirty bath water. Sitting in a hot pool with my friends in our birthday suits?  HECK to the NO.  I was the biggest germaphobe I knew before going to Korea and definitely would never be so open about my body. Now, I don't even care.  All I want is a nice warm bath and a hot tub with some friends. FYI: Men and women have separate bathing and hot tub quarters.  I know. Sorry guys.  All other areas are for both sexes , WITH YOUR CLOTHES ON!

After being introduced to what is now my favorite jimjilbang called Siloam in Seoul, I am forever convinced that everyone should have the jimjilbang experience at least once.  [If you're interested in discovering this gem of a sauna at Seoul Station (서울역) please visit their website for directions and information.  You will not regret it.]

My favorite sauna in Seoul.

As a foreigner always traveling the landscapes of Korea, finding cheap room and board isn't always easy.  There are hostels, hotels, and guesthouses, but staying in a jimjilbang is affordable and one unique experience.  It wasn't always my first option, but it worked. You can stay overnight and sleep in a sleeping room after a nice warm shower for less than the equivalent of $12 US dollars.  In small towns it is even cheaper.  Can you get a hotel for that price? Beat that my friends.  You should be warned, you will probably be sleeping on the floor.  It's something you get used to in Korea as some of the apartments don't even have mattresses or beds, anyway.     

Why else do I like the spa and jimjilbang? Depending on the size and scale of the sauna, the nicer ones have a computer room, a game room, a singing room, and food!  Some must eats in a jimjilbang are shikye, a rice drink, and eggs.  You can even get a nice massage for a few extra won (the Korean currency) in the shower room. That is one thing I refrained from for personal reasons, but I'd suggest doing so if you need to relax those muscles.  ALSO!!  You can sweat and freeze and enjoy a hot salt rock bed as much as you want in each of the rooms.These do amazing things for your skin and pores!  Right now my skin is in dire need of some love and attention, thanks to all this California weather drying it all up.

hmm... is there more?  Spend time with your friends!  It's a great opportunity to spend time with friends while getting out of the elements.  I have sad memories of staying in a jimjilbang alone a few times, but I have even greater memories of the times I spent with friends in Seoul, Busan, and Daegu in some of the coolest jimjilbangs. I can honestly say that some of my friends became better friends because of our overnight adventures in a jimjilbang.

Well, that's that for now.  My jimjilbang blues are somewhat laid to rest by reminiscing about the good times.

If you know of any good jimjilbang in the US of A, please post below and help some fellow jimjilbang loving readers out.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A.Korean Flavor: Bibimbap 비빔밥

Hello, this is my first attempt to reminisce of the Korean flavors that I miss so much.  It is also an attempt to recreate a taste of Korea in a town that has almost no Koreans nor Korean ingredients!

For the first Korean flavor, I'll talk about one of the most simple, but tasty meals:  Bibimbap.

Bibimbap is one of the most popular simple Korean dishes. The definition means a mixture of many things.  It can be served cold or in a hot pot. The term for the bibimbap served in a hot pot is called dolsot bibimbap.

What I love about this dish is that it is so healthy and tasty. You can use any kinds of vegetables and flavors you would like to add to your rice.

Here is a picture of a cold bibimbap I made a few months prior while I still had kimchi around.
You can make this dish by using rice and chopping up some of your favorite vegetables found at your local food store or farmer's market during the correct season!

First make the rice as directed on the package or by your rice cooker.

Then pull out your vegetables and begin chopping away. I will admit that it is a timely process, but it is well worth it for the colorful dish.

Here are some of the basic ingredients found in the bowl above:

  • kimchi (of course, the staple to every korean diet!  however, if you  cannot find it in your area like myself or do not like,  leave it out!)
  • seaweed (known as kim or 김 in korean and found in your local food store in the asian food aisle)
  • dark lettuce
  • asian cabbage
  • carrots
  • bean sprouts
After the rice is done cooking put a dollop of rice into the bowl.  Add all of the delicious ingredients above plus any of your own favorites.

To top it off, you can fry a delicious egg and plop it on.  To add some spice, you can add red bean paste (gochujang) to the mix. Then, there you have a it, a delicious mix of veggies and rice.  

It can be served in the bowl like the picture and should be mixed up before eating. 

When at a Korean restaurant, try ordering dolsot bibimbap, the food in a hot pot.  The rice and veggies get warm and the flavors are brought out in a whole new way.  

Enjoy your bibimbap!