When I was in Korea in April, I discovered that Airbnb launched a new area of their website alongside their “Homes and Places” called “Experiences.” Airbnb experiences are just what they seem. They are hosted by locals who wish to give Airbnb patrons local experiences. In Seoul, these can include guided night hikes to see the beautiful views of the city below, cooking traditional food at someone’s home, and making your own custom perfume with a professional perfumer, among many additional options. Many of the experiences advertised for Seoul have to do with food, and as a self-proclaimed foodie, I was very happy to see that I have options to discover more of the food culture in Seoul.
I didn’t end up booking an “Experience” until my second trip to Seoul, and I wish I had done a few in April so I would have a chance to do more of them. I chose a market tour and cooking class run by Anne of Sobaan Cooking as my first experience through Airbnb. This was to be four hours long, and I was ready to get my hands dirty and learn how to make two of my favorite Korean dishes, japchae (잡채—a stir fried noodle dish with vegetables and meat) and bulgogi (불고기—thinly sliced marinated beef). Anne met me and the other three participants at the Sillim subway station, and then we all walked to the local market.
It was very evident that Anne loves what she does. She was so enthusiastic about telling us about Korean cooking and about the different things that we saw in the market. At almost every stall, she stopped and shared her knowledge of the ingredients and street foods. It was nice to hear her anecdotes about her and her friends running to a local tteokbokki (떡볶이—spicy stir fried rice cakes typically paired with fishcakes, a very popular Korean street food) stand after school every day and her experience abroad in college making kimchi for her landlady, even though she had never made it before. Anne told us many things about Korean food and ingredients. She told us that the best kimchi (김치), a staple Korean side dish made of fermented cabbage) is made in November and December because that is when the Napa cabbage, the cabbage used to make kimchi, is in season. Anne also told us that acorn jelly and makgeolli (Korean rice wine) are what Koreans eat after they go on hikes.
Something I thought was very interesting is that miyeok-guk (미역국—seaweed soup) is eaten by mothers after they give birth because it is so rich in vitamins and minerals, and it is said that you age when you eat it. Koreans eat it on the first of the year and on their birthday. Korean age and international age are different because Koreans consider a person to be one year old when he/she born and everyone ages on the first of the year. Anne also told us that it is believed that because the seaweed is slippery in the soup it is believed that if you take it on a day of an important test the answers will all slip out, and you won’t do well. Koreans say that they ”ate miyeok-guk for breakfast” on days that they did poorly on exams. Those are just a few stories that Anne shared with us, and I learned quite a lot from her.
After we finished our tour of the market, Anne drove us to her parents’ apartment about five minutes away, where we would be cooking. We were warmly welcomed by her mother, and they made us feel very much at home. Anne and her mother gave us a tour of the apartment and showed us much of the beautiful embroidery that her mother has made. The entire home is decorated with her works, and it was just amazing. She embroidered everything from traditional Korean clothing, to small silk pieces and even a massive floor to ceiling tapestry on one wall. Before we left, I had to go back and take pictures of everything!
After the tour, we settled in the kitchen and began cooking. Anne started by showing us how to make kimbap (김밥—a common Korean dish made of cooked rice and various other ingredients that are rolled up in seaweed, kind of like sushi) per request of one of the other participants. It seemed fairly easy to make, though I’m sure a lot of technique went into rolling it. It was nice that Anne took the time to accommodate that request to make us something that was not advertised for her experience. After the kimbap, we began making our dishes. Everyone who had participated had the option of making japchae & bulgogi or japchae & chaeso-jeon (채소전—a vegetable pancake). Half of us chose the chaeso-jeon, and half chose bulgogi. Anne was very thorough in her instruction, and she was very patient with us as we navigated uncharted territory in our cooking knowledge.
Anne and her mother prepared a beautiful dining room for us to eat in. Hanging on the walls were traditional Korean wedding attire, called hwal-ot (활옷) for both a bride and groom that Anne’s mother had embroidered. More of Anne’s mother’s embroidery was also on display throughout the room. The table was a simple setting, and we sat on the floor per Korean tradition. We ate our two prepared dishes each as well as an array of banchan (side dishes–반찬) made by Anne and her mother, which is typical of Korean meals. I was exposed to a few new banchan, including acorn jelly and anchovies. My favorite side dish was definitely the pickled plums. The sweetness mixed with the slight tangy flavor from the pickling was very refreshing.
After we had stuffed ourselves full of japchae, bulgogi, and chaeso-jeon, Anne taught us how to make dasik (다식), a traditional dessert made from honey and different types of flour. The flour and honey mixtures are then pressed into a wooden mold (다식판—dasik pan) to create little patterns. Anne said that there are few artisans that still know how to make dasik pans, and that this particular dasik pan has been in her family for thirty years. Anne’s dasik pan has Buddhist symbols, but dasik pan can have varying patterns. We made geomeunkkae dasik (검은깨다식—black sesame dasik), songhwa dasik (송화다식—pine pollen dasik), and ssal dasik (쌀다—rice dasik). None of the dasik were very sweet.
I was grateful for not having an overly sweet dessert after our huge lunch. Ssal dasik was my favorite of the three. It is slightly sweeter than the other two, and it was closer to the more traditional flour and sugar flavor of typical American cookies. Geomeunkkae dasik was much more difficult to press into the dasik pan than the other two dasik because of the coarser texture of the sesame. It was barely sweet, but I did still enjoy the nutty flavor. Songhwa dasik was the most different from the flavor profile that I typically enjoy, and the texture was very different as well. Songhwa dasik was a little bitter and it is very powdery. I have enjoyed just about everything I have eaten in Korea, but I couldn’t get past the texture of the songhwa dasik.
With the dasik, we were also given sliced apples and omija-cha (오미자차—magnolia berry tea), made from magnolia berries that were harvested in Jeju. Omija literally means ‘five flavors,’ which are sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and pungency. Omji cha can be served hot or cold; Anne served it to us cold. Omji cha is a slightly citrusy tea, and it was light enough to cleanse our palates after such a heavy meal.
After we finished our dessert, Anne’s mother was gracious enough to show us some more of her beautiful embroidery before Anne drove us back to Silim Station, where we parted ways. I was really lucky with my first Airbnb Experience. Anne was a wonderful host, her mother was a delight, and the three other participants were friendly and easy to talk to. I would recommend Anne’s experience to anyone visiting Seoul. Everything about the experience was remarkable, and it was great to see a host have such a passion for her experience. If I come back to Seoul, I would like to book with Anne again.
Anne’s Airbnb Experience: Authentic Sobaan Cooking