Monday, May 2, 2011

Kimchi for breakfast in Seoul

Good afternoon from Seoul, Korea. I'm here for a very sudden and short business trip that actually takes me away from Manila on a week I'd rather be at home and working, but since I need to be here for work I thought I'd make the most of it anyhow and have a look around a city I've always liked.

I've been to Seoul many times, and it's one these cities that are forever changing and re-inventing themselves so I don't mind returning again and again. This trip has been very busy so I'd like to come back again and see the city at leisure in a few months.


I first visited Seoul on a summer holiday with my family when I was in high school. But my first trip by myself here was right after I had graduated from college, when I was working as the Regional Development Officer (RDO) for Asia-Pacific for AIESEC International. AIESEC is perhaps the largest student organization in the world and it has chapters in almost every country. But a handful of active AIESEC members went on to hold full-time jobs in AIESEC International employed by the headquarters in Brussels; and during my time, this included Anthony Pangilinan and Cecile Marquez of AIESEC UP, and Marc Ablaza and myself from AIESEC Ateneo. The RDO job was great and it involved traveling around the region for close to a year, meeting sponsors and members, organizing conferences and seminars, and doing general troubleshooting.

This was how I found myself in Seoul alone, for a little over three weeks. I traveled the entire country (it's not very big) visiting the AIESEC chapters in different universities. During most of this time, I stayed with a Korean family whose daughter was active at Seoul National University's AIESEC Chapter, and they lived in a very traditional Korean house with an old-fashioned bathroom and floor heating. This was when I learned to eat kimchi -- and lots of it. It was the only thing the mother ever prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner; so I don't think I ever saw meat during my entire stay at their home.


Kimchi is an acquired taste but fortunately I like it a lot. On my last night at my homestay family's home, the daughter proudly announced that her mother had prepared a very special and formal farewell feast, and several members of the AIESEC Korea National Committee had even been invited for this solemn occasion. I was very pleased and greatful for the honor, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would finally get to see something other than pickled vegetables.

The feast was held in the family's living room to accommodate everyone, and a long wooden table had been moved in and elaborately laid out for the occasion. The best family dinnerware -- elaborate bowls and beautiful silver chopsticks -- were brought out, and when dinner time arrived, we all filed in and sat on silk pillows on the floor to begin the degustation meal.

To my surprise -- or perhaps I should not even have been surprised -- my farewell dinner was something like a ten-course banquet featuring nothing else but kimchi in all sorts of ways. I don't think I'd ever seen so many vegetables in my life. Fortunately, everything was very good and my three-week stay with them -- farewell dinner of kimchi included -- sealed my lifelong love for and appreciation of kimchi. I was reminded of this again this morning, as I'd had perhaps five kinds of kimchi with rice for breakfast.


Succeeding trips to Seoul have been less eventful, as far as kimchi is concerned; although I do unfailingly choose the Korean breakfast over the Western one whenever I'm staying at a Seoul hotel. The last time I was here, I stayed at the swanky Park Hyatt Seoul which is an amazing wonder of modern design. I had the most beautiful suite with a massive bedroom (perhaps it was about 180 sqm...), a great dining room with an electric fireplace, and a gigantic bathtub hewn out of a solid piece of granite, that overlooked the city. I don't think I ever left the hotel except to visit a couple of antique shops and art galleries in Insadong once (I love Korean pottery), and to have dinner with friends living in Seoul at a famous Korean barbecue place one evening. It was really a weekend trip to visit a beautiful hotel much talked about in the design world. Talk about a luxury R&R.

This time I'm here on business and by myself so there's not much fun involved. But I hope to return another day soon to fully explore the charms of Seoul once more -- and, of course, to have more kimchi for breakfast.


Mandarin Oriental is having a Thai cooking class on Saturday, May 7, with Chef Channin Jakkased of the Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai featuring spicy lemon grass salad with tuna, creamy red duck curry, and chilled water chestnuts in sweet coconut milk. For more information and to reserve, please call 857-4767.

Travelife's Special Summer Issue
with Angel Aquino in Boracay
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


No comments:

Post a Comment