Friday, March 12, 2010

South Korea - Bulgolgi

During the Vietnam War my dad, an Air Force Captain, was assigned to an Air Force base in Kwangju, Korea for a 13-month tour. I was a baby and my mother, who had never left the United States, insisted we join him.

Kwangju was remote and difficult to get to because of bad roads and primitive surroundings. It was only 250 miles south of Seoul but years behind. My mother was told by my father’s boss not to come and he made it clear that there was no authorized housing available for American dependents on the base and there was no commissary.

Many of my mother’s friends and relatives thought she was nuts for wanting to accompany my dad, especially with a baby, to a remote part of Asia. But South Korea was friendly with the United States and it eagerly promoted tourism. My mother discovered the presence of missionaries there and found that there was a good-sized community of American Presbyterians living in Kwangju and that they often provided housing to Americans staying in the area.

My father left for Korea to begin his assignment and to make the final arrangements for our housing. He then wrote to my mother and told her to “come on over” and my mom and I embarked upon our adventure. Since my mother wasn’t authorized to ship household goods, she had to figure out how to pack everything we needed for a year into 44 pounds of luggage.

The arrival in Korea, the reunion with my dad, and a sightseeing weekend in Seoul brought on a sense of euphoria for my mom who had dreamed of traveling since she was a little girl. But that ended abruptly when we flew over endless patterns of rice paddies and mountains and landed in Kwangju. Reality set in and it was time to begin making a life there.

The year in Korea turned out to be a rich and memorable experience (for my parents – not for me as much since I was a baby). The move there had set us on a course; it was the beginning of many more adventures living in different countries all over the world. It was Korea that gave my parents a taste of the life-style that made them decide to join the Foreign Service.

Though I don’t remember Korea, it shaped my destiny, it set me on a path for a life time of travel.

One of the dishes my mother made often from Korea was bulgolgi, a sweet marinated beef served over rice.

Korean Bulgolgi

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced rib-eyed steak (you can find it already sliced in Asian stores)
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Yellow onion, halved and sliced into moon shaped slivers
2 green onions including the white parts, finely sliced into small pieces
2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
2 pinches black pepper
1/4 tsp of ginger, finely minced

Whisk all the ingredients together in bowl except beef and onions. When most of the sugar has dissolved, add beef and onion slices to the bowl and massage the marinade with your hands into each slice of beef. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To pan fry, place a few slices of beef in single layers on a hot oiled frying pan and fry each side until cooked.

Serve with rice.


  1. I'm stopping by from, you're just behind me today in the Personal blog section.
    This looks like such an AWESOME idea! I'm going to have to take some time looking through some fo the recipes. You are much braver than I am I think. :)

  2. Thanks! I'll have to check out your blog!