When Jamie, Ryan, and I met in Rotorua, the first thing we did was to look for a Korean grocery store. I was surprised to see that there were a few of them in such a small town. Jamie picked up a large stainless basin, gas burner, grill plate, and a Korean tooth brush. He said he would use the large basin to make kimchi when he goes back home, and the gas burner and grill plate would be used for our samgyeopsal gui (grilled pork belly) dinner that night. The store owner recognized me right away.
“Uh… you are Maangchi?”
“Yes! How do you know me?” I asked.
“Mere told me all about you! She has been preparing her party for months. She gave me your website address and made me go check it out”
It turns out this store is Mere’s regular Korean grocery store!
The day of the meetup was very cloudy. Mere’s house is on a lake, 30 minutes from the hotel where we stayed, and the drive up was so beautiful and green. “Ahh, beautiful everywhere!” I was so excited that I turned up the music in Ryan’s car.
Boom! boom! boom!
“We are like movie stars in a movie! We are running in this beautiful green field” Haha! I must have been too much excited.
This was our first time to meet Mere face to face, but there was no way we could miss her house. First, in front of her house, there is a tin sculpture of a man playing a horn that will make anybody curious. Second, the address that she gave us was written on the gate.
Eventually I could meet someone who has been inspiring me for so long! She has some health problems and has to use an oxygen tank, yet she’s determined to live her life to the fullest, with total enthusiasm for everything she does: writing, cooking, and taking care of her husband.
Her husband Martin is an artist and was in the hospital when I visited. We weren’t sure if the Gapshida meetup party would happen, but Mere was determined to continue with the event. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone with a husband in the hospital and with her own health problems to host this kind of big event, but Mere insisted to carry on. She always wants to go forward. That’s one reason she inspires me.
When we got to her house I saw that everybody was watching us from the second floor. Welcome, welcome!
She hung the Korean national flag from the entrance of her house to greet us. I felt I was being welcomed very warmly.
Mere looked exactly like she does on the fan page on my website. She’s warm, friendly, intelligent, and funny! She was wearing her small oxygen tank and it was connected to her nose to breathe. She was smiling and very focused on our shoot, ingredients and party preparation. I said, “Your oxygen tank is cute and it reminds me of the jetpack I used to get in my computer game. At Christmas, we got a jetpack as a gift.”
She said she has to change the tank every 4 hours. We had a huge hug! Her sister Jill was also there, and many of her friends and family. It was a big party!
The 2 sisters Mere and Jill planned, organized, and cooked for the whole party!
I said hello to everybody and then Mere showed me the food that they made. When she opened her refrigerator, whoo -ah! I saw so much Korean food filled in plastic bags and containers stacked and waiting to be served in a minute! About 400 hundred mandu and steamed pork buns were there, and a big jar of ojingeojeot, which takes a month to ferment, so this means she started preparation more than a month ago! Also, there were so many rolls of freshly made kimbap, it must have been a huge job preparing all this.
I asked her: “Who made all this?”
Mere said: “Jill and I.”
“You should have asked me to come and help you, at least I could help roll all these kimbap this morning! ”
Mere said: “You came all the way from New York, I don’t want you to work hard, and also I wanted to surprise you.” Yes, I was surprised indeed!
Someone said: “Maangchi, would you come downstairs, we have another surprise for you!” More surprise? Holy moly I would have a heart attack that morning. : )
I was smiling from anticipation even before I got downstairs. Jill’s son-in-law and her son were ready to perform a traditional Maori war cry called Haka.
“Oh~ahhahai! ump ya~!!”
They were yelling and stomping, and they opened their eyes really big to either welcome or threaten viewers. I thought this was so funny. I wasn’t afraid, because I knew this was a welcome. When I first arrived in Wellington, New Zeland, there was a rugby championship game of New Zealand versus France. On the TV I saw that the New Zealand team took off their shirts and performed Haka to the French team. At the time I was expecting the French team to do something similar, but they didn’t do anything. The New Zealand team won that night. I heard the car honking from my hotel room. All New Zealanders were talking about their triumph the next day.
Jill’s son Jay cracked up halfway through the performance, but the son-in-law made it all the way through and fulfilled his mission!
Haha, I got a good shot when he stuck out his tongue!
After this, we went upstairs and started filming. The first shoot was Mere’s traditional paua fritters, or a kind of abalone pancake. New Zealand abalones are dark green. The recipe was very simple and easy, and Mere’s taro chips were so wonderful: crispy and crunchy and light. I’m definitely going to make these when I get home. The other fantastic thing she made was a sauce with soft tofu. Remember soft tofu? She made a really delicious sauce with this. See? What a creative cook she is! I will post all these recipes in a video later, you’ll learn how to make all of them.
Mere’s artist friend Kristian Lomathwas filming us
Simple ingredients. The black stuff in the shell is chopped paua.
During filming, I was talking to the cameraman. Check out Mere’s smile. She probably exchanged smiles with her sister Jill. She might have wanted to say, “Jill, this is fun!”
Voila! Mere’s delicious paua fritters, taro chips, and the special sauce made with Korean soft tofu (soondubu)! The video will be posted later.
After filming, more of her friends started to arrive for the meetup. Mere’s artist friend came and decorated anyone who wanted their face painted.
Mere’s neighbors and her mother
I was interested in the snake painted on her face because I heard that New Zealand doesn’t have any snakes even though everywhere was lush green plants.
I asked her: “Do you like snakes? I heard your country doesn’t have one single snake!”
She just answered me by smiling.
Come to think of it again, when I landed New Zealand for the first time in Wellington, they checked all passengers’ carry on bags all very closely with sniffing dogs, and I think this is how they stop any unwanted plants and animals from entering the country. I had some dried seaplant (miyuk) in my bag and I was really afraid the dog would stop at me. But the dog passed my bag without doing or barking anything. Actually my seaplant is already dead and dried. It should be ok. I even joked to the guard with the dog, “Oh, your dog is very smart!” Hee hee, yes, smart dog. He or she knows that at least my miyuk won’t ruin the New Zealand ecosystem.
The Korean grocery store owner came with a plate of delicious japchae. She said she had never been to that area. Everybody welcomed her.
This little girl was so interested in me.”Maangchi,” she asked, “Are you from New York?”
“What’s it like?”
I miss her big smile!
Jamie also took out some gifts he brought from Korea for Mere and Jill. He brought some delicious doenjang and gochujang, as well as some soju. He also brought some Korean bookmarks. Right away Mere and Jill were racing each other to choose the bookmarks they wanted.
“Sister, this is mine!” “No way, it’s mine!” : )
There was so much delicious food there: the main table in the center of the living room, 2 dessert tables with a huge cake and beverages. The massive cake was prepared to celebrate Jill’s granddaughter’s birthday.
Some people sat on the balcony overlooking lake Rotorua and enjoyed the scenery, and some enjoyed each other’s company and food inside.
Jamie took over the kitchen for a while to make ssamjang. Jill was asking him so many questions about Korean cooking and he answered very competently.
Mere’s mother was helping to cut kimbap!
Delicious stuff inside this cute sack! : )
Pickled fish with coconut milk marinade which is a Polynesian traditional food. No wonder they love Korean ojingeojeot. They seem to love pickled fish.
Huge huge cake! Happy birthday!
Ryan’s banana cake
Do you know that children usually love to play under a table or desk? : ) I used to play under a table when I was young and I even cover the whole table with a blanket to make a cozy room inside. Children’s playing is similar everywhere.
Over the mountain with a lake view
We all had a great time, and the people who came to the party told me they were very interested in making their own Korean dishes. I think that the Korean grocery store in Rotorua is going to be a lot busier, and the lake in Rotorua will soon be surrounded by the delicious aroma of kongnamulguk and doenjang jjigae at dinner time.
In my next post I’m going to show you more of the sights of Rotorua, as well as some of the other cooking we did there with Jamie, Mere, and Jill.