It’s a fine balance, living abroad.
You moved away for an experience. You want to envelop yourself in everything foreign, immerse yourself in the new, the strange, the otherworldly. You want to feel it all, try everything once.
But that gets a little old after awhile. When you realize this isn’t a month-long backpacker’s jaunt—when you haven’t seen a vegetable in a week, when chicken-in-a-cup and ramen noodles become your daily staples—sure enough “living abroad” really means just that, you are living your life (in my case for a year) and suddenly the whole idea of balance becomes much more apparent.
Not eating every last meal out at some traditional Korean restaurant won’t mean missing out on the overseas experience. I prepare my own breakfasts and most lunches, but am more relaxed about dinners and the weekends, a fine balance indeed. We are here to save money, yes, but eating out rarely costs more than $5 CAD and the cost of groceries here is comparable to that of at home (except at the markets, but more on that later). These days, I feel much more like mysel… but that could just be cutting back on the soju, too.
Anyways, here’s how I’ve been keeping healthy while still working my way through the edible culture:
1. The Obvious: Kimchi
The infamous Korean side dish, the ubiquitous vegetable that I’m grateful to have served at each and every meal. Fermented spicy cabbage (or, occasionally, radish) keeps those good bacteria going, helps you digest the rest of your meal, and *knock on wood* has kept me from getting sick all year (except for the time I drank the tap water, but that’s a pin-pointable aside..). Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it doesn’t matter the deal. Just always eat your kimchi with every meal!
It is the blog’s namesake, after all. I couldn’t track down my cruciferous veggie of choice for the first month or two here, but now I feel silly—how could I not spot this friendly green giant in the organics section at HomePlus?! It is quite imposing. It’s a little more swiss-chard like here, sadly no curly or black varieties to be found, but alas, kale is here and I will find ways to sneak it into every juice, packed lunch, and snack. Hurrah for Korean kale!
Bibimbap is essentially a colourful chopped salad served atop a bed of rice with red pepper paste (gojuchang), so no complaints here. Well, a little more preferential treatment for brown rice would be ideal, but fermented greens and other veg goodies soften that blow.
Our favorite dosirak (boxed lunch, similar to Japanese bento) spot, Hansot serves up a good ol’ bibimbap (I usually get mine with tuna) for under $3 CAD, and I swap in brown rice for an extra buck. Ready in five minutes no less, picture below. See why I’ve been avoiding my tiny, ice-cold kitchen?
If you feel like gettin’ wild, you can also order dolsot bibimbap—it comes served in a traditional stone pot, piping, no, scalding hot, with a generous splash of oil at the bottom so the rice crisps up and makes the whole thing sizzle. We frequent the “Healthy Food Place” (the logo as picture on the bowl below, they’re pretty easy to find in Korea) for the best ever roasted or raw vegetable bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap. Plus they come with seaweed soup, more dried seaweed to make your own mini-kimbap rolls as you eat, and plum tea (yum!) for dessert. Kimchi too, but that’s a given. Yum!
Whenever I say Shabu Shabu (which is probably more frequently than I like to admit), I always yelp it in a high-pitched, triumphant voice—one of our kindergartens went for dinner the night before coming to school and evidently enjoyed his meal—all day we heard his cries of “sha-boo SHA-BOOOO!” And this place lives us to the hype. Five-year-olds, they sure have educated palates these days..
Shabu shabu is Chinese hot-pot (although our favorite spot seems more Vietnamese-influenced) where you order up a plate of lean meat or seafood and throw it into a boiling vat of broth at your table, alongside your choice of greens, herbs, and sprouts. While the meat cooks, you assemble your own rice paper wraps with loads of fresh, colourful vegetables (cabbage, sprouts, leafy greens, even kale!), add meat as desired, and of course, the best part, dip in a choice of three incredibly tangy, spicy, and fresh sauces. Your own customizable salad rolls, fresh as they come. And that’s not all! After you finish the meat, you’re served buckwheat noodles and green onions to cook in the remainder of the broth. And once you’ve finished that round (can you believe this resourcefulness!), a bowl of rice, kabocha squash, and other veggies to simmer down into a risotto. Heaven, really. It’s a little more expensive than most restaurants around here, but at about $11 CAD it’s reasonable for a three-course meal.
Another favourite, not pictured here, is cold soba or buckwheat noodles topped with loads of veggies and spicy sesame sauce. We usually find this at Japanese restaurants (like this one). Korean bbq isn’t too bad either, as you can wrap your meat in loads of sesame or lettuce leaves, and often one of the sides (I think it’s usually paired with duck) is a crazy-good sesame chive kimchi. Aeri’s kitchen has a recipe and some photos!
5. When all else fails, there’s always iHerb.
Hey, remember that time I moved to Korea and said I wouldn’t order anything from iHerb? You know, I wanted to live authentically and fully immerse myself in the experience?! Ha. Ha… ha.
Well I can fully say I’ve getting the experience in Korean, hell you don’t have a choice here sometimes. There’ll always be the goods and bads of living abroad, but one of those firm and true goods is getting a package in the mail once or twice a month from your friendly, inexpensive friends, iHerb. And thank god for that. (p.s., if you are a first-timer to iHerb, use my code QRS549 at the checkout—you’ll save $5 to $10!)
So there you have it, my surefire tips to staying alive while living in Korea. In addition to these things, I take a Greens supplement, I juice a few times a week, and I go to the local gym (even when it’s colder inside that outside) and hot yoga studio (so lucky there’s one in my town) 5 or 6 days a week. And I must say, I feel a world of difference since when I first got here. But perhaps I’m missing something? Or you’ve another suggestion from living out of your element? I’d love any suggestions… we’re always open to trying new things. That’s why we’re living abroad, after all 🙂