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Thursday, February 03, 2011

16평, 26명 (Sixteen Pyeong, Twenty-six Myeong)

This post is about Idli. And Dosai. And potlucks. And international friendships. And claustrophobia.

Ask anyone who's spent time at Sadhana to relate some of their best memories to you, and there are a few things you'll definitely hear:
- Dance parties and bonfires
- Living, eating, working, and playing with a group of amazing if eccentric people from all over the world
- Wiping with your hand.
- Tropical fruit salad for breakfast every morning (papaya, pineapple, pomegranate, banana, guava, chicoo, orange, coconut, cilantro, mint...)
- Skipping first work during the week or breakfast on the weekends to bike into town for Idli and Dosai.

Four of those things are self-explanatory, one is awesome but, unfortunately, unspeakable, and one may be a mystery to some of you. It's this last one that I'd like to explain.

When we think of Indian food, we generally think of stuff like tandoori, vindaloo, palak paneer, aloo gobi, channa masala, etc, served with raitha, naan, roti, paratha, and chapathi, and maybe a lassi at the end. What we aren't usually aware of, though, is that this stuff is all north Indian, and not representative of the country's cuisine as a whole. North Indians have left home and spread around the world a bit more than southerners - there are surely historical and political reasons for this, such as Delhi being in the North, but I really have no idea - and, thus, so is their cuisine.

Due to the different climate, and particularly the difference in rainfall, the south grows different crops and eats different fare. The dependable monsoons, and the water they bring with them, make the environment more suitable for rice and less suitable for wheat. This is why, in Tamil Nadu, naan, roti, and chapathi are generally found only at slightly largel "hotel" restaurants. When you want to run down the street and find the closest, cheapest, hole-in-the-wall, this-is-what-people-who-work-in-the-fields-eat, sort of place, idli and dosai are what you get.

For lack of better comparisons, I'd say that dosai are more or less rice pancakes and idli are...ehr...rice muffins? Anyway, without further ado, here's what they look like, and then there's how you make them:

1) Mix long-grain white rice and urad dahl, 2:1. (1 cup of rice and 1/2 a cup of dahl will make enough batter for about 20 idli, or maybe 6 dosai.)

2) Soak for 24 hours. Make sure to put in plenty of water, since lots of it will get absorbed. (You can start with hot water to make sure it all gets soft.)

3) Blend mixture together until it's a bit foamy and not too grainy. Add water slowly, lest it get too runny.

4) Add more water and soak for another 24 hours. You should be able to smell a little sour scent - this means it's fermenting properly.

The batter can be preserved in this state -if the ambient temperature isn't too hot, you can leave the batter out for a few days, while if it's warm, you can store it for a week or so in the fridge.

To turn the batter into idli:

5a) Start boiling a bit of water in a large pot, or pressure cooker if you have one.

6a) Use a little bit of oil to grease your idli steamer trays (visible in my hands there.)

7a) Spoon out a bit of broth into each idli mold.

8a) Stack your trays up and start steaming. Be vigilant about the water level - if it touches the idli, they'll get soggy, but if it all evaporates, you'll probably burn the pan.

9a) In a non-pressurized, covered pot, it should take about 10 minutes. I suppose less in a pressure cooker.

10a) Take them out, slide them out of the tray, and start over at 6a).

Or, to make dosai:

5b) Heat a little bit of oil in a thick skillet.

6b) Drop in a ladlefull of batter - not too thick.

7b) Fry, flip, and fry again.

That's the end. Now all you need is something to eat them with. I suggest...

Inviting 25 friends and telling them each to bring something Indian-ish. Chutney, sambar, curry, any of the north Indian stuff mentioned above.

It will help if a third of them are from the motherland.

Clear off your computer desk and set out a buffet.

Chow down!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

nice nice nice

Not much to write about of late.

My Scottish coworker and the-better-part-of-a-year cynic and vegetarian buddy Andy left the country after three years. The week preceding his departure was full of plantnappings, furniture nabbing, pancake gorging, and rice wine till 6AM. One fine night, five of us went through eleven kettles of rice wine and one of each pancake on the menu (spicy chive, green onion, potato, kimchi, split pea, sesame leaf) except cabbage. There was much talk about death, breathing, zen, the grave, goodbyes, environmentalism, Sadhana, and some other slightly-less-couth topics.

Tobin, a fellow American whom I met in Sadhana Forest, took his sweet time meandering around India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, and Seoul, and finally made it to his real destination (my living room) sometime around the middle of the month. He hung out for a week, had a really great time (if I may say so), participated in the first ever giant party in my house (25 person, hundred dosa, thousand idli [admitted overstatement] Indian potluck), and then headed off about a week ago. I hesitate to write about the experience because, for one, I am pretty sure he'll be reading this at some point, and, for two, because he's just that sort of friend that one has nothing but loads of good stuff to say about, and I'm generally not comfortable giving other people compliments (i.e. I give them to myself quite well), and particularly not in front of an audience as GIGANTIC as mine (proof).

The very next day, a pair of Couchsurfers arrived from Colombia. Jorge and Isabel. Jorge's now staying in what was once Tobin's spot, while Isabel is staying with another host nearby. I've been enjoying showing them around town, taking them to meet my friends at excellent restaurants, cooking various foods from them - from Korean to Indian to random stuff from my fridge - learning about Colombia, and realizing how much my Spanish skills have atrophied since 2002. It's been a bit of a burden having guests for about a whole two weeks now, but it's also been really nice to reconnect with an old friend, meet someone new, and share my life and time and food and social circles and bathroom day-in and day-out.

Then, this morning, I headed back to my old neighborhood (Chilgok, where I lived in '07-'08) and met up with Mr. Kim, the manager of the "Farmer's Marketplace." Back in March or so I saw the store while on the bus and have been frequenting it since then. When I got the bright idea to start showing films, I started dropping off advertisements there, even though foreigners hardly visit and middle-aged Korean women who do the shopping for their family are never going to come to my Saturday-night screenings. The cashier lady asked me once, nicely, why I bothered biking around and doing screenings and if I wasn't just tiring myself out, and without thinking I told her that I just mostly felt compelled, that I didn't know what else I would do if I weren't doing "this." (I learned an important fact about myself at that moment.) We talked briefly about how pitiful we are in contrast to the influence of major agro-corporations, then I put the minipumpkins and sweet potatoes in my bike bag and pedalled off.

Sometime in December - I remember because it was the first big snow of this winter - I stopped by again to do some shopping on my way to meet a friend. It was some sort of customer appreciation day, so after brushing the flakes off my ridiculous orange parka, the cashier lady took me to the back of the store, where pork was a-grillin'. I enjoyed a bit of grilled rice cake and kimchi and some homemade rice wine that hadn't been fermented quite as long as it should have, and wound up meeting the manager, along with a local artist, a former school principal, and some other guy, all related to the Daegu eco-scene in some way or another. Now that I write this, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before, in the post about things coming together.

Anyhow, it was on that day that Mr. Kim said that we should have tea together. And it was at that moment that he explained to me that the Korean phrase "let's have tea" means something like "maybe we have something in common, let's try to get to know one another," whereas "let's have a meal" means "let's cement this relationship" and "let's have a drink" means maybe something along the lines of "let's get drunk and vent and then make some plans." I accepted and vague tea-related promises were made.

Actually, though, I think it's a little weird just to have tea, so I called Mr. Kim last night and arranged a lunch meet for today. I grabbed the bus out to Chilgok, gave myself nausea trying to finish the appendix to Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, did a little shopping at the Marketplace, then was taken to "Nok-ya-won," an awesome little restaurant I wish I had known about back in 2006 when I first came.

They served us green tea, then jeong-sik, which has of late become my favorite kind of Korean meal. Literally "decided meal," jeong-sik is kind of like the soup du jour, except that rather than soup it's 10 or 15 or 20 vegetable side dishes served with rice. The specific dishes vary according to the restaurant, the location, the season, the prices at the market, and I suppose the cook's whims and specialities. Included in today's lunch:

-Noodles and radish in vinegar/red pepper sauce
-Black rice and mushroom porridge
-Sticky sweet potato noodles with sliced vegetables
-Sauteed mushrooms
-Thin-tofu soup
-Slightly stronger tofu in red pepper paste
-Sweetened dried radish
-Sesame leaf kimchi
-Sweet lotus root
-Grated carrots, bean sprouts, and spinach
-Doraji (some awesome root) in a sweet red pepper sauce
-Donnamul (little crisp leafy guys, stem and all) in a thin soybean paste and onion sauce
-Some little fishies
-Just a tiny bit of steamed pork, leaves, and dip
-An awesome kind of sliced root with peanut sauce, which I had never tried before
-Another vegetable with some crazy seasoning I can't begin to describe.
-And I think two or three more that I can't quite recall.
-Not to mention that the rice - multi-grain, with pumpkin and sunflower seeds and ginko nuts too - was wrapped up in a lotus leaf and then steamed.

My lord, it was good. And Mr. Kim paid (12 bucks each) while I was in the bathroom.

While eating, we talked about Mr. Kim's path from anti-goverment demonstration in his college days to a few years doing politics with an independent party to (I'm not sure, my Korean isn't anywhere near as good as I'm making it out to be) to finally operating this marketplace and trying to raise environmental awareness through volunteer programs, farmstays, movies, and other strategies. We also talked about the communities I'm intending to visit in the coming weeks, and how so may aspects of community here have collapsed, that most people don't even realize it, and what the best way to go about addressing that problem is. I explained to him what WWOOFing was and offered to connect him to my persimmon farmer down South, and he offered to connect me to some "famous" environmentalists around here who do documentaries and other things that I didn't really understand. I asked him if he knew about CSAs (I hadn't found a Korean farmer yet who did) and he said that actually his marketplace is a sort of CSA and that some of his customers have direct relationships - which means they've met face-to-face and even worked in the fields side-by-side with- the farmers who supply the store. Excellent!

After lunch, he dropped me off at another eco-friendly shop, where I buy my laundry detergent and other stuff. I'm on good, maybe somewhat flirty terms with the (female) manager there, and since I was buying stuff for friends as well as myself, and my bag was stuffed and I probably looked pathetic (the nausea still hadn't/hasn't gone away), she gave me a solid 20k won discount (on a 70k won basket of goodies) even though I've never bothered signing up for a membership card.

She also introduced me to the guy behind me in line at the checkout counter, who happens to be a farmer on the mountain nearby. He also happens to be one of the store's suppliers for soybean paste, red pepper paste, and other fermented foodstuffs. She told him I was interested in farming, and within 30 seconds of meeting me he offered to let me come to his farm and check out both his organic plots, where he grows enough to feed his family, and his processing facilities. He also offered to give me a ride home. Equal parts nauseous and grateful, I accepted.

On the way home we chatted about this and that; his 11-month old son, his time in Australia, his farm in the mountains, his family, Korean hospitality, his sister's Canadian husband eating really spicy peppers, how Finnish people can't handle kimchi, the virtues of raising your own food, what to plant come April, how nice sweet potatoes are, and so forth.

What I draw from this is that, even though I feel ridiculous sometimes [edit: most of the time], talking to people about this "group" called Daegu Green Living that is still at this point just me, throwing around flyers indiscriminately, chatting with owners, interviewing interns, writing articles, taking pictures of foods and signs and postponing putting them up on the web, it really does seem like a lot has come of it. Things and opportunities I didn't expect and couldn't have predicted in advance. The more I put myself out there - sharing my opinion, making efforts to fix things, deciding not to hide my values - the more I seem to meet and connect with similar people. And the more those people seem to respect me and want to help me and connect me to other people they know. I suppose it shouldn't really come as a surprise, since there's no way any of this could happen if I just sat around in my little turtle-shell of a home studying Korean (which I do do sometimes). Nonetheless, it's pleasant. It's nice that, despite all the things that make me curmudgeonly (see recent post about Foot and Mouth, as well as my recurring references to Jensen and probably most posts with the "Wisdom" label), there are
people in my immediate vicinity who share my concerns and ideals and hopes and frustrations. It's also nice to know that there are more people than I know of who are, in their own ways, going about doing the sort of stuff I am.

I don't know what else to say. Just, "nice."