A day filled with Korean cultural activities

April 12, 2022

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My first week back in South Korea after three years of not being able to visit. And words can not describe how happy I am to be back in this lovely country.
The last time I was in Korea, I sadly did not get to do many activities or travel due to a lack of budget and time. However, I plan to make it an educational and adventurous stay this time. And my first trip with Adventure Korea already ticked off many boxes on my bucket list.

I went on the Hot Air Balloon and Pottery trip, a one-day tour to Icheon in Gyeonggi-do.

The day started by waking up at 6 AM. Not something I was looking forward to, but I knew what eventful day lay ahead of me, which served as a motivation to get up in the morning.
After being picked up at Express Bus Terminal and greeted by fellow travelers, I sat down for an hour-long drive from Seoul to Icheon. 

Although we were planning to start the day with a hot air balloon ride, this, unfortunately, did not happen due to the wind forecasts indicating strong winds.
Thankfully we were made aware of these circumstances, and Adventure Korea provided a backup activity. 

We started with a tofu-making workshop.
Firstly being taught about its history and what ingredients were needed, and afterward got hands-on experience by starting with the grinding of soybeans and cooking them to make the soybean paste become curds.
These curds we were able to taste with a bit of soy sauce. And although tofu does generally not have much flavor. But the curds were still fresh and warm, and the taste was like warm soy milk. So I have to say I enjoyed that more than actual tofu.

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After the curds were formed and cooking was done, we went back inside to create our final tofu block. This process was straightforward.
Firstly you put cheesecloth in a cubed box and fill the box with the tofu curds. Afterward, you wrap up the cloth and press down on it with a lid. You needed to apply quite a bit of pressure to ensure your final tofu block would not fall apart.
You carefully take it out of the mold after some pressing, and you’ll have your finished product, a fresh block of tofu that you’ll have to consume within a day to avoid spoiling.

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After the tofu workshop, we got some free time, which we spent walking around and looking at the surrounding areas. The place was lovely since it was away from the busy cities with nature surrounding the area.
The weather was also hot that day, reaching temperatures of 25°C.

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After walking around and socializing with fellow travelers, we were ready to start our second workshop of the day; Making our own Makgeolli.
For those that do not know what Makgeolli is. Personally, it is one of my favorite Korean drinks, made out of fermented rice.

The session started again with an introduction to the drink we’ll be making and its history.
That is how we got to know that Makgeolli has had quite a bit of a past.

The first documentation of the drink dates back from the Goryeo Dynasty when kind Dongmyeong was ruling.
Back then, there were statuses linked to drinking this alcoholic beverage. The only people that drank Makgeolli were farmers and lower-class communities. Who usually made Makgeolli in their household.
Makgeolli became a popular drink for farmers because of the low alcohol percentage and refreshing taste. An added benefit is that it has loads of nutritional values like vitamin B, C, and lactobacilli, which help with digestional function.
If lower-class people moved up a rank, they were no longer allowed to drink Makgeolli since it was classed as a lower-class alcoholic drink.

The Korean government banned Makgeolli making from 1960 during the war due to rice shortages. That is when Korea started its Soju production made from either Tapioca or sweet potatoes.
A bit later, during the Seoul Olympics, there was a rise in imported alcoholic drinks, resulting in the Makgeolli industry’s plummeting. Moreover, many people saw it as a drink for the elderly.
Thankfully there is now more demand for lighter and healthier drinks, so Makgeolli, with its many nutritional values, became popular again and is now the perfect combination with some Korean jeons (Korean pancakes) on a night out with your friends.

This alcoholic rice beverage starts with the most obvious ingredient; rice.
The rice is supposed to be a bit undercooked. This is necessary as it will, later on, soak up water when fermenting.
Another essential ingredient is Nuruk (누룩), which are small grains of dried-up rice or wheat that were left to mold and form a sort of yeast. Nuruk is the ingredient that will start the fermentation process. We mix this with the rice, making sure it’s spread out evenly.
Afterward, we add some regular yeast used for alcoholic beverages to a bowl of water and mix it thoroughly, ensuring no clumps in the water.
To this yeasty concoction, we will add the rice mixed with Nuruk. Give it a good stir to combine all the ingredients, and you’ll have your final product.

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The only thing left is to put the mix in some containers and wait a week for the fermentation to start.
You have to make sure to stir the rice for the first two days and not put it anywhere with a temperature higher than 25°C.
After a week of fermentation, you can taste your final product by adding a cup of water.
I still have not gotten the time to try it yet, as the fermentation process isn’t finished yet.

Lunch was provided on-site, where we ate some traditional Bulgogi cooked in a broth accompanied by a wide array of side dishes and rice. It was a hearty meal that filled me for the rest of the day. And it was nice getting to meet some fellow travelers over some lunch.

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The afternoon was spent going to the ceramics village in Icheon. This village was a street filled with ceramic shops. And I could not leave without buying myself a set of two cups embedded with a leaf design. The prices were not that high either. My two cups cost me 16.000 won.

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I also created my own cup afterward when we did the pottery workshop.
During the workshop, we learned about Korean pottery history and how to make something ourselves.
We were given creative freedom to make whatever we wanted. That is why I opted for making myself a third cup. However, it did not compare to the ones I bought in the village.
It takes about a month for our creations to be ready. So, for now, I can not show you how mine will look. But I can assure you that my cup will be a bulky one. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable making it.
I hope to do some pottery again soon to add more to my ceramic collection.

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The evening soon came, and it was time to head back to Seoul.
The bus ride was very relaxing while talking with our tour guide. I ended up going for dinner with her, where we carried on our conversation.

And once I got home, I told my roommates about my day while we cooked the freshly made tofu with some kimchi.
Because tofu and kimchi are just a very basic but delicious combination, and I can for sure say that my roommates liked it because my block of tofu was consumed entirely.

So, this was my culture-filled day with Adventure Korea. And if I can, I will definitely do it again, but next time with hopefully less wind so we can do the hot air balloon ride.

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