A Seoul Kitchen: Cooking in Korea

This is my first time living abroad with a kitchen. I’m thankful for what we have, but it is still a challenge. I’ve only had one good kitchen in my renting history. I dream of the day when I have a nice oven, a dishwasher, a nice stove top where four pots/pans can comfortably fit at once, and plenty of well lit counter space.

Cooking in Korea has proven to be a bit of a challenge. We are lucky to be one of the few apartments in our building with a full size refrigerator which we keep fully stocked. The rest of our kitchen though is the same as everyone else’s here. We have a large sink and two small pieces of counter space, a quarter of which is taken up by a dish drying rack.

We don’t have a dishwasher, which is no big surprise, but we both long for the day when we don’t have to spend a half hour or more a day washing dishes. Most of our kitchen storage is out of my reach, which means that before I begin a cooking endeavor I need Dave to get my ingredients and utensils down for me, so I don’t have to climb on the counter. All of this is a little inconvenient, but not necessarily challenging.

The challenging part is that we only have two burners on the stovetop, one of which cannot be controlled and is either off or on high with no low setting. That burner is only used for boiling water. It is hard to fit two pans on the stovetop at the same time. We usually cook with a large wok style pan and it barely allows for another pot to rest comfortably next to it. Many of the full meals I like to make require more than two burners and if they don’t, then they require an oven, which of course we don’t have.

Asian kitchens don’t come with ovens. You can buy one, but you are really living the ritzy life if your apartment comes equipped with an oven and a drier for that matter. Clothes driers are not common here either. Air drying on foldable racks you set up in your room is the Korean way. I miss having a drier! and an oven! I didn’t have a drier in Thailand either, but I had a wonderful laundry service that I miss so much. For ten bucks a month I could put out up to five clothing items (no socks or underwear) outside my apartment door every night and a mystery woman would collect, wash and return them the morning after the next. For ten bucks a month I had a constant supply of clean and ironed clothes which I never had to wash myself. Amazing. Seriously amazing.

Oops, I managed to find myself off topic. I got a little side tracked. Not that much though since our washing machine is in our kitchen.

It’s not easy to cook fun, interesting, and delicious gourmet meals on two burners. At home I would cook some sort of protein with two sides, but that would require one more burner than I have available, if I wanted everything to be ready at the same time that is. I should add that we also have a microwave and a toaster. I have never been and will never be interested in cooking in a microwave though. That’s an uninspiring thought for me.

As far as shopping for groceries goes, we can find a lot of what we are used to at the large grocery store which is much like a really super Super Target. We tend to buy most of our non-perishables and specialty items (tortillas, salsa, black beans, etc.) there. We go to a small shop right around the corner from our apartment for fresh fruits and veggies. Unfortunately, the selection of produce isn’t as exciting as home and especially not as exciting as Thailand. A single small bunch of grapes is about five bucks. Five bucks!!

They do sell their produce seasonally which is much better environmentally because it means it isn’t being shipped to us from all corners of the earth. It also means that we have a very brief window to catch exciting produce like strawberries or oranges. We have yet to find a local Farmers Market here, which is usually where I would get a lot of inspiration. All sorts of gorgeous, exciting produce from the Farmers Market is very inspiring gastronomically and I miss that. Do you guys back home know how lucky you are? I feel like I’ve been cooking with the same ingredients since we got here. The only new fruit I’ve seen here is a type of melon which I can’t even eat because I’m allergic to melon. It’s very disappointing.

Having said all that, we’ve still managed to create some delicious meals on our two burners. From Mexican to Italian to Thai, we’ve been able to keep it interesting and when we get bored, we eat out. It’s not too hard to find a tasty restaurant in a city of ten million people.

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