Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to make Paechu Kimchi in 23 easy steps

1) Receive a shipment of Paechu (Chinese) cabbage, green onions and other veggies from a friend or relative (in this case, Unni's father, who grows his own vegetables in a lot next to his apartment in Waegwan).

2) Allow the vegetables to wilt, wrapped in newspapers, for several days while waiting for a day when both you and Unni are free.

3) After several days, just before the vegetables are about to go bad, finally find a free day to make kimchi; then discover that you have no salt in the house.

4) Run to the store, only to find that they are completely out of the kind of salt needed to make kimchi (굵은 소금, rock salt), and do not expect to get any more in the near future.

5) Savor the irony of the situation; a few weeks ago, when everyone else was frantically hoarding salt out of fear that the world's oceans would become irradiated by the Fukushima disaster, you and Unni both laughed at them for giving in to mass hysteria. Now all the salt is gone and you have to go begging for it from the same people you mocked before.

6) Drive to Uijongbu to cadge some salt from Unni's sister, since it's her birthday and you were going to visit her anyway. Take all the vegetables and supplies you will need to make kimchi. Take the dog along as well, since Unni's nieces have been begging to see her for weeks.
7) Arrive in Uijongbu with your arms full of cabbage, tupperware, birthday cake, and dog, only to discover that no one is home. Let yourself in to the apartment and help yourself to their salt, which they have stored in a huge clay jar on the veranda.

8) Now you are ready to get down to business. Spread out the cabbage on some newspapers on the floor, and cut each cabbage in half lengthwise.

9) Sprinkle salt inside the leaves of each cabbage as you move them to a large tub.

10) Full the tub with enough water to at least submerge all the hearts of the cabbages. If the tub you brought turns out to be too small, use your hands to smoosh the cabbages down until they fit.

11) Go away and do something else for 4-5 hours.


Stealing a swing from a little girl

Picnic at Gwangreung with Unni's neices
Treating Unni's neices to some pat-bingsu
Birthday party for Unni's sister

12) The cabbage has now soaked up the salt and softened up. Drain the cabbage and wash off the excess salt.

13) Here is where you would normally add the yangnyum (base sauce). But it's late and you're tired, so you pack the cabbage in tupperware and stick it in your refrigerator for another day.

15) Wait until around 10 pm the next evening when Unni gets home from work. Take out the cabbage and discover that the two or three on top are now too disgusting to use. Discard them.

16) Get out the ingredients for the yangnyumkochu-karu (red pepper powder), minced garlic, minced ginger, sugar, myeolchi aekjeot (fermented anchovy sauce), daikon radish, green onions, and some sort of pickled baby shrimp mixture that's been in the fridge for a while. Slice the daikon and green onions, and puree the shrimp stuff in the blender.

16) Whoops, turns out you're out of sugar, so use this weird sugar substitute Unni picked up in Hawaii:

17) Mix all the yangnyum ingredients together in a bowl until nice and gooey.

18) Take each cabbage half and rub yangnum all over it, being careful to get plenty in between the leaves.

19) Get halfway through before you realize that you haven't made enough yangnyum. Stop what you're doing, wash the yangnyum off your arms, and go back to mince some more garlic and chop some more vegetables. Fortunately you have enough of all ingredients in abundance.

20) Resume the process of coating the cabbage in yangnyum.

21) When finished, pack the coated cabbages into a large tupperware container and leave at room temperature overnight to ferment. Store the result in the refrigerator.

22) Hesitate to try the kimchi for several days, thinking that something created by such unholy methods and stolen/improvized ingredients was surely never meant to see the light of day.

23) Finally try some, and discover that it is delicious!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Two-Day Hiking Bender in Kyoto: Part Deux

Iwakura-Konpirasan-Ohara hiking course

Continuing on my brief stay in my former hometown of Kyoto, on day two I decided to head up to the mountains north of the city and try to replicate a perfect day that I had back in the summer of 2008 hiking from Iwakura to Ohara.

I started off by purchasing some onigiri (triangular rice balls wrapped in seaweed, known as samgak kimbab in Korea), drinks and other snacks at the Family Mart, then hopped the #45 bus for a long ride up to the hamlet of Iwakura in northern Kyoto. It was a great day for a hike - sunny with a light breeze. From the bus stop the trail head can be a bit tricky to find (the first time I attempted this hike I think I ended up in somebody's private wood lot). But the neighborhood hadn't changed since the last time I was there and I got on the trail quickly.

The trail starts out on a logging road alongside a babbling brook, climbing gently at first but gradually narrowing and growing steeper until you suddenly notice you're out of breath. It's the sort of scenery - sun-dappled trail disappearing ahead through tall trees - that I like to put on my desktop backgrounds when I get tired of looking at my kitty.

Looking uphill

Looking downhill
After about an hour of progressively steeper climbing, the trail finally gives up all pretense and, taking a sharp turn to the left, begins a hard slog up the last 500 meters or so to the summit of the first foothill, Hyotan-Kuzushi-Yama (瓢箪崩山). There's no view at the top but it's a good shady spot to have some coffee and take a breather. I paused to examine some of the hand-written signs and placards different groups had left marking their passage. At some time recently this site appears to have been part of a school scavenger hunt:
"Uzura Kindergarten
Question #5:
How many onigiri did Mrs. Takashima bring today?"
Continuing on I followed the signs pointing to Ebumi Pass (江文峠) and Ohara (大原). This part of the trail was longer and much more difficult to follow than I remembered; it seems to have fallen into disuse.
Keeping a sharp eye out for the few markings and ribbons remaining on the trees, I eventually found my way to another crossroads, this one decorated with laminated hand-drawn signs made by children hanging from a dozen different trees, all bearing the slogan "Let's hike at an easy pace."
After this, the trail headed steadily downhill toward Ebumi Pass, and the trees thinned somewhat offering the first views of the next mountain, Konpirasan (金毘羅山). This part of the trail seems particularly wearying because, with every downhill step you take, you know that you'll have to take another uphill step to get to the top of Konpira on the other side of the pass. But there are pretty flowers to cheer you up.

At Ebumi Pass the trail crosses a section of the Kyoto Isshu Trail, mentioned in my last post, and also a two-lane highway leading into Ohara. Across the road a torii gate and Shinto shrine mark the entrance to the trail up Mt. Konpira.

This trail is clearly older and also better-maintained, with moss-covered stone steps leading up the steeper sections and a few small Shinto shrines along the way. Again, the trail follows a clear mountain stream for a while, and fallen flowers from the surrounding trees litter the pathway. The atmosphere is shady and mysterious.

It was along this section of the trail that I encountered the only other hiker I saw on the trail that day, who also happened to be a foreigner. The rest of the 4-hour hike was spent in absolute solitude, something that would be unimaginable here in Korea on any day of the year.

Near the summit of Konpira-san, there is a scenic outlook at a small Shinto shrine. Passing through the torii gate, you are presented with a panoramic view of the sleepy village of Ohara spread out below.

The trail subsequently followed the ridgeline from Konpira-san to Suitai-san (翠黛山). Along this section I had my eyes peeled for a particular tree. The last time I did this hike, around this point in the trail I remember feeling pretty exhausted and throwing myself down at the base of a big old tree, discovering to my delight that its trunk was curved in a such a way as to provide the perfect orthopedic support for my back, and it offered an excellent view of the mountains further north. I nearly fell asleep just leaning against that tree. I figured I probably wouldn't recognize it again after so much time, but then at a turn of the trail suddenly there it was:

My favorite tree
The tree was just as comfortable as I remembered it. Unfortunately I only had time for a perfunctory 5-minute sit at its base before I had to move on.

The rest of the trail was a long, steady downhill hike into Ohara. I remembered that last time I managed to lose the trail just before the end, with Ohara in plain sight in front of me, and had to bushwhack my way through the last 100 meters. This time I was determined to keep on the trail to the end, so I kept a vigilant lookout for trail markers as I approached the final section, but once again I lost the trail at the exact same spot. The trail was clearly marked right up to the last 100 meters, and then it just disappeared without a trace, forcing me to pick my way through rough mossy terrain until I came out behind someone's house. Another Kyoto mystery!

One of the best features of this hike is that it ends right at Ohara onsen. This ryokan-style onsen offers a day-tripper package that includes use of the rotemburo bath and a simple udon set meal for 1500. It would be overpriced elsewhere in Japan, but in Kyoto it's one of the few outdoor baths worthy of the name. And after a long hike, it's so inviting to soak in a hot cedar tub while looking up at the side of the mountain you just emerged from, as if to say, "No sweat, nature, was that the best you could do?"

Ohara Onsen

The village of Ohara

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two-Day Hiking Bender in Kyoto

Recently I took a brief trip back to Japan for some standardized testing and more free radiation exposure. Actually, I stayed in the Kansai region, which has been entirely unaffected by the recent disasters, except for a significant drop in tourism. After a tense day at the test center in Osaka, I had two and a half days to cool down and enjoy myself in Kyoto. Reveling in my total domination of the GRE and disoriented by my first visit back to my beloved Kyoto in 18 months, I threw myself into an orgy of hiking, visiting as many of my favorite old haunts as I could fit into my limited schedule.

First off, I hit the "88-temple circuit," a marvelous but little-known trail that winds around the small mountain just north of Ninnaji Temple. A miniature version of the famous 88-temple pilgrimage on Shikoku (and the smaller but still daunting 88-temple pilgrimage on Shodoshima), this trail takes only about an hour or two to complete and yet manages to pack 88 Buddhist temples into that short stretch. You can get a workout and a spiritual cleansing all at one go!

As if 88 temples weren't enough, there are additional small icons and stupas adorning the path here and there, like this one:

The trail is usually deserted except for a few joggers. This being a Sunday it was somewhat more lively, and at a scenic overlook near the mid-point of the trail - just as I happened to be taking a video - I came across a large family group having a picnic.

 (Warning: video features creepy heavy breathing sounds)

Nevertheless, most of the trail was still deserted, perfect for quiet contemplation. The temples are maintained by various civic groups and each is dedicated to one of the various nyorai (Japanese Buddhist spirits) - mainly Dainichi (life force), Yakushi (healing), and Fudo (money). Each temple has a stone tablet marking its number and purpose as well as two or three small buddhist figures inside a display case, a wooden placard offering an appropriate mantra to chant (in Japanese), a small brass gong and hammer, and of course the requisite donation box. If you put in one yen at each temple, you'd be out about $1 by the time you reached the end!

It's a place I'd recommend to anyone in Kyoto looking for a pleasant and beautiful spot away from the crowds. The trail takes off and ends near the northwest corner of Ninnaji and should be easy for a non-Japanese speaker to follow without getting lost - just follow the arrow signs that say 順路 (they look like this):

After exiting the trail it was time for lunch. The main lunch place near the front gate of Ninnaji was completely full, so I went to a tiny noodle shop two doors down, which turned out to be a total win. The place had only one large table, and a mother-daughter pair came in just behind me. So we all sat together and immediately struck up a cordial conversation while we waited for our noodles.

Over the course of our meal, we advanced through the stages of acquaintance from exchanging business cards to asking the server to take our photo, stopping just short of the point where I start showing them pictures of my kitty. The mother is a professional Kimono-put-er-on-er (着物着付け) from Chiba who was visiting Kyoto on business, and her daughter had tagged along for a little sightseeing. They were adorable, and the staff was apparently so charmed by our easy cameraderie that they offered us a free serving of matcha (the tea-ceremony kind of tea), which sort of made up for the overpriced zarusoba noodles.

After that I took the tourist tram to Arashiyama to visit the monkey park, another of my old haunts. It's a tacky tourist trap, but I'm a sucker for furry animals and just about every visitor I ever had in Kyoto inevitably got taken there.

From the monkey park I walked back across famed Togetsukyo Bridge...

...down the main tourist street of Arashiyama, where this man let me take a photo of his adorably outfitted dog named "Cookie" ...

... through the bamboo forest, where tourists and amateur photographers jostle to capture a rare stretch of path without any people in it ...

... until my path joined up with the Kyoto Isshu Trail. This trail makes a circuit around Kyoto from Fushimi Inari shrine in the southeast, up Mt. Hiei and across the mountains of northern Kyoto, and down through Takao and Arashiyama in the west, ending up in Katsura. While I was living in Kyoto, I eventually traversed every part of this 70-km trail, finishing the final section just two weeks before I moved away. Again, it's a pretty easy trail to follow without a map, even if you don't really understand Japanese, because there are little numbered posts all along the route showing you where to go next:

Tokaido Shizen Hodo sign on the left, Kyoto Isshu Trail sign on the right
Actually this particular section of the trail overlaps with the Tokaido Shizen Hodo (the Tokaido Nature Walking Path), which runs all the way from Osaka to Tokyo. From the bamboo forest in Arashiyama the trails lead north past a series of historic sites, eateries, and craft studios. Initially there are a lot of tourists and even the occasional kitschy rickshaw, but the crowd thins out rapidly as you move north into the Sagano district of Arashiyama. This is a quaint old-fashioned shopping street that I discovered near the end of my 5 years in Kyoto. It seems like there's hardly ever anyone there, but it's just a short walk from the hustle of Arashiyama.

At the end of this street the road forks at a Shinto shrine, and the trail takes the left fork over Rokucho Pass and then down into the Hozukyo River gorge. The stretch of trail from here to Takao is another of my old favorites. There's no easy way to describe it, but hopefully the pictures speak for themselves:

I had a dinner appointment with some old friends at 6:30, so I only had time to get as far as the bus stop at Shirotaki. It's too bad, because there are some great spots along the trail just north of there that I'd have dearly loved to see again: the Kuyataki waterfall, my old picnic spot, the three grand old temples of Jingoji, Saimyoji and Kozanji overlooking the gorge at Takao.  Who knows when I'll see them again? But I had timed it just right. From Shirotaki, the bus back to the center of town took a good hour, and I got there just in time for a tasty tonkatsu dinner with my friends at Kimukatsu in the basement of the Cocon Karasuma building.

Well, I suppose by now I've just about reached the limit of how many photos one can reasonably put in a single post. So I'll stop here for now. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion to "Two-Day Hiking Bender in Kyoto"!