Kabocha Quinoa Kimbap


As I’ve posted before, kimbap is a surefire staple of Korean convenience food. And in Korea, convenience food often seems to be a foremost fare. It’s the “bali bali” lifestyle here—not as in the relaxed, easygoings of Indonesia’s most chilled-out hood—as in, “hurry! hurry!”

Here, restaurants are up and running in two days. Here, you run in the hallways, whether you’re a student or seon-saeng-nim (teacha!), because walking is wasting time. Everywhere has high-speed internet. Buses might as well have full-body, roller-coaster-style seatbelts and overhead bars to counteract their breakneck pace (this about sums it up). Co-pee and kimbap comes ready-made at GS25, 24/7. Everything should have been done by yesterday, but that probably wouldn’t be fast enough anyways.

Anyways. For me here, there’s yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and unnecessarily (or maybe just really necessary) long pee breaks. And trying to engrain in my students’ brains that it’s okay(!!) to take a little time to relax and unwind. I’ve got my own version of kimbap too—it’s loaded with good stuff to keep your belly happy for a long time, but thankfully its prep is just as palli palli as you might need.


So what exactly qualifies as kimbap? That one’s pretty easy. In Korean, “kim” is the seaweed paper used to wrap things up, while “bap” simply means rice. Hence, “kimbap.” As for the filler, Kabocha squash is common to Korea and always well-stocked at the grocery store, making it a no-brainer for my beta-carotene-packed rolls. And you already know how I feel about the best little protein powerhouse pseudograin quinoa. Combine that with some tahini for extra stomach staying power and you have a magical trifecta, a fare for fuel at all hours, and rightfully so—kimbap here serves as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an easy snack.


While I’ve yet to see this variety served up at a little local “orange shop” (our foreigner name for standard Korean kimbap shops), I sure hope it pops up soon!

Kabocha Quinoa Kimbap (vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, nut-free)

Makes 2-3 rolls



1 cup quinoa

1/2 kabocha squash

swiss chard leaves (or any sturdy green), washed and patted dry


coconut aminos, soy sauce, or tamari for dipping, if desired


Deseed your kabocha squash and cut it into chunks (if you can get them into strips all the more power to you, mine turned out more like cubes with my dull knives here) and roast in the oven with coconut oil, salt, and pepper, checking halfway through to flip. While the squash is roasting, cook the quinoa on your stovetop. Allow the quinoa to cool, but not too much—I find these stick together better with the heat from the grains, it almost seems to steam the roll shut.

To make the roll, layer in this order: greens, quinoa, squash, drizzle of tahini. Roll your veggies up, using water to seal the roll. Slice thinly and enjoy immediately, or do it Korean-style: wrap tightly in aluminum foil, grab a pair of chopsticks, and take it for the road!



Tips ‘n’ Tricks: Grocery Shopping in Korea

There’s a wrinkly old man, plopped on some blankets on the ground, casually skinning an eel. Some ajummas bundled up in puffy winter coats, squatting to separate wrinkly, earthen roots into those ubiquitous maroon-coloured bowls. A stand, sheltered by parachute-like tarp serving a variety of fried snacks drowning in that inescapable, gojuchang-laced “red sauce.” Just another day at the market in Korea…

There’s quite a variety of ways to get your grocery goods covered in this country. From traditional markets and street stalls to western-style grocers and department-store supermarkets, shopping experiences run the gauntlet from authentic and old-school to, well, Walmart. In my seven months here I’ve found the best plan of attack is a combination of all of the above.

I’d argue that most foreigners living in Korea are out to save a buck, wanting to get an authentic Korean experience, yet still have access to familiar foods from home. So without further ado, I present you: my haphazard guide on how to do just that.


1. Shop Outdoor Markets whenever Possible

When I first set out on foot for food in Korea, I headed straight to HomePlus (one of Korea’s conglomerate giants) and made the mistake of purchasing their produce, thinking to myself about $2 CAD was a bit steep for an apple—especially in a region known for its orchard picks. Que the local markets and street stands (found on almost any busy pedestrian corner) where fruits can be found for less than a dollar a pop, and veggies come without pretentiousness or a good wash.

That’s about $20 CAD for a watermelon there, folks.

Sure, it might mean you have to give your veggies an extra rinse or two, but I’ve found most of the prices to be half of their supermarket counterparts. Plus you often get to interact with the people farming your food, and of course your produce is much more likely to come from nearby. Win-win-win.

Carry cash, be prepared to deal with some pungent smells, and go with at least some working knowledge of Korean (ie. “How much is this?” 이거 얼마예요? / Igeo Eolmayeyo?) and a sense of adventure. In Daegu, Seomun Market is incredibly big and a bit overwhelming, but should have whatever you could possibly be looking for. If you live in Chilgok, there’s an all-day Wednesday market in Area 3 too. I can’t remember the dong (neighbourhood) but I’ll update when I do…


2. Scope out your region’s immigrant hub for more foreign/exotic foods

We all know Seoul’s got Itaewon, but what about the rest of Korea? I paid about $6 CAD for a small tub of tumeric at HomePlus back in the fall—if only I’d tracked down BukBu Bus Terminal (북부정류장) before!

For Daegu folk, the BukBu Bus Terminal area (the north bus terminal, not Dongdaegu) is where many immigrant labourers have come to settle and open up shop—on my trip there I spotted Indian and Chinese restaurants, but even better was the array of exotic goodies otherwise absent in Korea—Cilantro! Dates!! Tempeh!!! And legumes galore. I was a giddy little schoolgirl after discovering this gem. Daegu Green Living did a pretty good write-up on it a while back. Here’s a link to the below Map:


If iHerb didn’t exist I’d probably be camping out here on the weekends, which brings me to my next point…

3. The Internet is a beautiful gift from God. USE IT.

Between iHerb (no, I don’t secretly work for them, although I might as well…), Gmarket, and High Street Market, you really can have it all, abroad. iHerb‘s got you covered for any and all supplements and health goodies, grains and legumes at crazy-good prices, ships to Korea for $4 and comes in just 4 business days. It’s a dream, really, and most waygookins here herb about as hard as I. Well maybe not quite as hard, but they get it. Anyways. Gmarket is Korea’s answer to eBay, and they stock plenty of things you won’t find elsewhere in Korea, and the English version works pretty well! I’ve bought everything from castor oil to clothes, and things come incredibly fast. High Street Market is a bit pricier, but stocks some pretty awesome goodies (thai peanut veggie burgers, store-ground almond butter, vegan/gf lasagna, plus they stock and sell Alien’s Day Out cakes/breads/cookies).

IMG_4064 Bought a nice sack of these thinking they were gojis… that was a spicy mistake!

4. Costco, HomePlus, Emart

The big-box stores of Korea. All three stock a decent number of Western-style goods for prices comparable to those at home, and though I don’t know Emart well, HomePlus-uhh stocks a pretty decent selection of organic and non-pesticide products (there’s some great guides to Korean organic and non-pesticide labeling here and here). Costco memberships cost about $30 CAD. I got a foot-high barrel of organic brown rice there for about 15,000 won and rumor has it they also stock bacon, cheese, frozen pizza, and those chocolate chip muffins just like your home branch. Avoid at all costs on the weekends.

I fail at the whole Korean key-yoot thing… sorry dudes.

5. Scope out your local organic store (they exist!)

I’m lucky to live in the hagwon (private academy) capital of pretty much all of Korea, so there are plenty of pampered children in my hood—which means plenty of protective parents who want only the best organic food for their precious children. Which is fine by me, ’cause I’m reaping those benefits. Chilgok, my area of Daegu, has an iCoop (the first few times I had no problems, though now they won’t let me shop without buying a membership), an all-organic shop with fresh-baked breads, organic ice cream, and a big hormone-free meat section if that’s your thing. Unfortunately my branch’s produce selection is usually pretty disappointing, but there’s another one just up the street, “The Farmer’s Marketplace” (map/write-up here). There’s a comprehensive list of green and “green-ish” shopping spots in the Daegu area here, as for Busan, Vegan Urbanite should have you covered, and of course Alien’s Day Out is holding it down in Seoul.

So there’s my non-comprehensive list of how to work with groceries abroad. Other than these five things I suggest, researching, experimenting, and reading some English-language Korean cooking blogs (or watch The Kimchi Chronicles) to learn more about those strange, grimy-looking ingredients you’re surrounded by. If you’ve got another tip or trick, or something I’ve missed, please please suggest it in the comments, for my benefit and for other readers! Ideally I’d like this page to serve as something helpful to newcomers to Korea (especially Chilgok and Daegu) who were as lost as I was at first when I came to Korea in terms of grocery shopping.. so let’s work together to make this thing a little more extensive, shall we?

Peace, love, ‘n’ kimchi,


Seoul Food

Before we boarded our train due north, I feared I’d put too much stock in our weekend away to Seoul. We’d waited nearly three months of living abroad to make the trek up to the capital—now, two paycheques later, the trip was finally plausible, and I couldn’t wait to check out the big city lights, and of course,  the big city bites.

Seoul is a serious city—it hosts the world’s second-most-populous metropolitan area, a population density twice that of NYC, and one of the top transit systems in the world, known for its ease of use (every station is marked in English and Korean) cleanliness (we sat on the floors, and eating off of them wouldn’t be out of the question), and price (about a buck a standard ride, though seniors and the disabled always ride free). And the shopping. Oh the shopping…. **pretends not to think about bank account**

After a casual 271 km/h, 2-hour jaunt on the train, we grabbed a cab to our hostel (Kimchi Hostel, natch), in Hongdae District—the University area which I’d liken to a Kensington-Queen-West mash-up for you folks back in Toronto. We checked in around 11:30 p.m. on Friday night… and then it was time to go shopping. By the time we arrived at Dongdaemun Market, it was actually Black Friday in the States, fitting for the endeavour upon which we were about to embark!


This photo was shot at around 2:30 a.m. early Saturday morning—right amid market hours!  We were the wusses who left by 3 a.m., early by Korean standards, as Dongdaemun Market opens at 5 p.m. at night and remains frenzied until 10 a.m. or noon the next day, only closing for about 5 hours so vendors can take a nap before the next evening. Block after block is lined with a muddling of tents, food stalls, department stores, and bulk vendors hocking wholesale goods. And the people! Population density becomes evident at Dongdaemun, even in the early hours, as shopkeepers come and stock up on wholesale to sell back at their stores. For shopping fuel, I snacked on some mandu (korean dumplings) and a variety fish-meat-and-tteoboki-stick that was somewhat questionable and somewhat tasty. Ah, 3 a.m. street food, you are risky business.

In the morning, too excited and hopped up on city-energy to sleep, I strolled up to a nearby bakery and brought back an assortment of goodies and caffeine to fuel our day ahead. Not the most attractive presentation, but I’ve been continually impressed by the variety of baked goods we’ve come across in Korea..


After some, er, more shopping we took the Metro up to Itaewon, the Foreigner’s District—the U.S. army base is around here so there were a lot of familiar accents around! It was so strange to be surrounded by English (or at least the mish-mash of languages we’ve become accustomed to in Toronto). We found a buffet (ah! a buffet!) that served Indian food called “International Food Restaurant,” chose to ignore the cheesy name, and went in. Here, some papadum, hummus (hooray!!!), tikka chicken, chicken curry, some daal, and a veggie pakora. Unfortunately the veggie dishes—the veggie pakora and the veggie curry—were pretty disappointing, the pakora tasting incredibly dry and somewhat stale, the curry with a strange artificial flavour. That said, the daal, chicken curry, and tikka chicken were excellent! Still not craving Western food, but Indian definitely was a nice change-up from Gochujang.


Then, on Mipa‘s recommendation, we ventured in both National Foods Mart and High Street Market. We actually hadn’t sought either out on this trip as we didn’t want to stroll Seoul with bags of groceries, but we did happen to serendipitously cross both—meant to be, no?


It was pretty comforting to see things I recognized on the shelves, with names in English (and Turkish, and Chinese, and pretty much any other language you can imagine—Seoul truly is an international city!). Thankfully, I’ll be heading home for the Christmas break in just a few weeks so I gussied up all of my willpower and limited myself to the necessities.


At High Street Market, I was delighted to see this sign–a sign of the blogosphere in real life! I’ve been reading Mipa’s blog since before I came to Korea and couldn’t wait to try some of her vegan treats. Woohoo! There was a fine selection available, but knowing again that I’d have to carry whatever I bought around (a trip back to our hostel to drop things off would be a 2-hour round-trip journey), I picked what was really calling my name. Pumpkin chocolate chip banana bread. Oooooh yes.


Soft, moist, and with the density of a cupcake—oh yes, it was worth waiting for. Mipa, I will definitely be ordering some of your goodies when I come back from Christmas! If you live in South Korea, do check out Alien’s Day Out Bakeshop and order some for yourself!


And the rest of my mini-haul from the foreign markets—Chimes Ginger Chews, a big ol’ bag of dates (hooooray!), and some blanched-almond almond butter. I’ve been making my own here, but the Korean food processor that was left in my apartment isn’t quite strong enough to do the job. Hopefully these goodies will last me ’till Christmas!

Late Saturday night, we savored each drop of beer from Riley’s, the Canadian-owned craft brew pub in Itaewon, a more-than-welcome respite from the unfavorable selection of Hite (shite) and Cass (tastes like ass) brews otherwise favored in Korea. We also had a few brews at the Rocky Mountain Tavern, a Canadian foreigner bar. Though the Moosehead tasted pretty funky, it was pretty incredible to be watching an OUA football game, talking to people with familiar accents, and be surrounded by Canadians in Korea.

Of course, a few beers calls for a few snacks. The mandu I ordered from this street food stall were the best I’ve had yet—deep-fried, perfectly salted, and with a savory soy-and-scallion sauce for dippin’, finger-lickin’ goodness. If only I could find a way to cram some nutrition into Korean street food…


Food, shopping, and the perfect mix of plans and aimless wandering… Seoul was absolutely incredible, incredibly overwhelming, and way over my expectations— and I can’t wait to return. I’m sold on Seoul.