Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tips & Resources For Learning Korean

It was seven years ago, when my friend and I were at my house studying for our Year 12 exams. She insisted on watching an episode of "Love Letter" during our break, and guess what? That was the moment I got hooked on Korean entertainment. My first ever K-Pop addiction? Super Junior!

From that day onwards, I started learning Korean on my own. My ultimate goal was to be able to watch and understand variety shows without relying on subtitles. While I am still nowhere near proficient in Korean, I can now read and write fluently (without really understanding the meaning most of the times), understand the fleeting captions in variety shows, order food with confidence at a Korean restaurant and occasionally eavesdrop on people's conversations while I'm out and about.

Since quite a few of you on YouTube have asked how I self-learn Korean, I thought I'd gather all the tips and resources that I've found useful over the past few years!

#1: Sogang Korean Program

In my opinion, this online program is by far the easiest to follow and the most comprehensive. The categories are split in beginner, novice (3 levels) and intermediate (3 levels). Each level consists of about ten lessons, with each lesson focusing on a theme or topic. Each lesson teaches vocabulary, expressions and grammar in that particular context and these are eventually tested through games or exercises. The program has a strong focus on listening and reading. If you are serious about learning Korean and are able to set aside some time each week, this is definitely a good free program to go with!

#2: KLEAR Textbooks

The KLEAR textbooks also come in different grades, namely beginner, intermediate and advanced. The structure is also easy to follow, with more in-depth explanations compared to the Sogang Korean Program. There are plenty of reading and writing exercises, however, listening exercises are supplemented with audio files on the website. One downside is that the answers are not available in the workbook itself, and can only be obtained by making a request online, which may be a little inconvenient. I bought my textbooks from

#3: Berlitz Korean Dictionary

There is no doubt that you'll need a good dictionary when you study a language. I started out with a phrasebook, then a simple dictionary and then finally settled with the Berlitz dictionary. It comes in really handy during those moments where you go "I wonder what they call this in Korean?" or vice versa. I bought my dictionary from a local bookstore.

#4: Music

This would very likely be one of the reasons why you want to learn Korean, so why not make it a resource? Listen to a song and then read the lyrics three different ways - in hangul, romanisation and translation. The best website for this is because the three are placed side by side. Try to match up the English words to the Korean words, or vice versa, and if there are any you are unsure of, use your dictionary! Rewrite the hangul over and over to practise your writing.  Slowly advance from reading romanisation to hangul. After a while you will start noticing commonly used words and phrases, and gain a lot more vocabulary along the way.

#5: Shows & Dramas

Again, these are very useful resources. The next time you watch a Korean show or drama, try to listen carefully when you read the subtitles. Pick out the words and match them up to the subtitles and remember the pronunciations. If you have some time, watch it with subtitles first so that you know what is going on, and then watch it a second time without subtitles so that you can just concentrate on listening.

#6: Technology

You can do so many things with computers and phones these days. To incorporate Korean into your daily life, download the Korean keyboard onto your computer and your phone. Download an app to help you learn. If you have an iPhone, change Siri's language to Korean (yes, sometimes I talk to her just for fun), as you will know when you mispronounce words.

It goes without saying that the best way to improve is to put in constant effort and keep practising, especially with friends who are fluent in Korean. Always be motivated yet realistic about your goals. Don't be disheartened if you feel like you're slow to improve, but at the same time, just being able to say words like 'oppa' and 'saranghae' doesn't count as being able to speak Korean.

I hope this information is useful especially for those thinking who are thinking of learning Korean. Keep on going and never give up. Fighting!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shizuku Ramen, Abbotsford

Last week, Quyen and I headed to Shizuku Ramen, Abbotsford for a long-awaited dinner after work. We were very good the whole day and resisted the temptation of terrible work snacks (chocolates, chips, soft drinks..), knowing that we would reward ourselves well at the end of the day. After doing some late night shopping, it was time for dinner!

Shizuku Ramen is a contemporary Japanese restaurant specialising in ramen and craft beer. Upon walking into the restaurant, I was immediately attracted to the decor. The atmosphere was dark and pensive but brightened up by a colourful display of beers and beautiful lights.

We had already set our eyes on the soft shell crab tempura way before we arrived. For $27, we received a generous serving of six large pieces. It was tender yet crispy, and even though the crab itself wasn't as flavoursome as I had hoped it to be, the beautiful combination of spices and onions more than made up for it.

Our other entrée was the scallop sashimi. At the start, we both felt that this dish was a little bland. The scallops were fresh and the mayo was a nice touch, but it was still lacking something. Halfway through, we realised that we had been eating it all wrong, as we weren't eating it with the yuzu ponzu (a citrus-based sauce) that had seeped to the bottom of the plate. We then started mopping up the sauce with our scallops and immediately the flavours were enhanced.

My main meal was a bowl of negi cha shu ramen. Overall, I really enjoyed it, as both the ramen and the broth itself were delicious and comforting. However, I was a little underwhelmed with the cha shu, seeing as it was a prominent feature in many of their ramen dishes. I felt that the little strips weren't able to fully bring out the taste I was expecting. Nevertheless, it was still a lovely bowl of ramen, and that egg. I swear I could have eaten a few more of those.

Quyen ordered the Hokkaido miso ramen. I'm pretty sure the ultimate highlight of her dish were the bamboo shoots!

Further indulging in gluttony, we ordered two desserts to share. The first dessert was the sweet almond tofu, which was smooth, light and refreshing. The only downside was that the berries weren't thawed properly and was still a little icy inside.

Our other dessert was the espresso pudding, which has a similar consistency to the almond tofu. For a coffee-naive person like me, I found it pretty strong, but the taste grew on me after a while. It was a great way to end our dinner.

In conclusion, I found Shizuku Ramen to be a Japanese restaurant with a difference. I would definitely recommend popping by to try something different from the typical sushi and noodle soups from takeaway shops. I will definitely be back to try more dishes from their tantalising entrée menu!

Disclaimer: This meal was sponsored by Shizuku Ramen. The content of this post reflects my honest opinions.

Shizuku Ramen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tsubo Bar & Restaurant, Dinner Plain

While we were in Dinner Plain, we decided to dine out just for one meal. After doing a bit of research, I decided on Tsubo Bar & Restaurant, a modern Japanese restaurant. Tired after a day of fun in the blizzard snow, we went for the omakase menu at $75 per person. There wasn't an outline of dishes that were going to be served, and we didn't ask either. We just sat there, waiting to be fed!

First up, we were served some warm miso soup. I would have liked it to be even warmer (we were feeling very, very cold!), and the enoki mushrooms were a little hard. Nevertheless, it was a nice prelude to the meal.

The next entrée was potato salad. Dressed lightly with mayo, it was a simple and comforting dish. To be honest, I wasn't too sure where the meal was headed at this point. The dishes that had been served so far were pleasant but unremarkable.

Our next dish was oysters served with ponzu dressing and garnished with red sea lettuce. I've definitely had better and fresher oysters, but these were still lovely. We were then served a simple cucumber salad that acted as a palate cleanser.

Then came the onsen eggs, and suddenly we were all paying full attention. The plating was so beautiful! The eggs, garnished with bonito and nori flakes, were served in their egg shells propped on a bed of salt. The whites were so soft, and the yolks were slightly firm yet creamy.

The next dish had two main features, one being lightly smoked and seared tuna, and the other being kingfish with karashi mayo. The tuna was just divine. My brother's exact words when he took his first bite was, "Can we please order another?". The smokiness added depth to the flavour and made it very distinct from other seared tuna dishes that I had previously had. The kingfish was a great contrast, and had a sharp and spicy taste.

Chicken karaage was next on the list. Although it was a relatively simple dish, it was still highly enjoyable. The meat was really tender, the coating had just the right amount of thickness and crispiness, and the seasonings were spot on. We were all nodding our heads in approval. At this point we were taking an interest in the serving plates. Don't you think they are so pretty?

Things just got better and better. The next dish was black octopus embellished with black quinoa, black sesame and tomatoes. It was slightly chewy, but still quite tender and delicious.

This was the dish responsible for putting us in a food coma. We received two humongous servings of okonomiyaki, thick and generously topped with an array of vegetables, seafood and mayo. It was really tasty, but we tried our hardest and we still couldn't finish it.

Imagine our shock when another main was served after the okonimiyaki! The last dish of our dinner was a medium-rare steak in a tsuyu broth. Strangely enough, I still really enjoyed it and managed to finish it off despite being very, very full. Look at that beautiful consistency!

Needless to say, it was a great dining experience. The only thing I found odd was that the omakase ended on a savoury dish instead of sweets. Then again, would I have wanted green tea ice cream or any other cold dessert for that matter, when it was literally freezing outside? For those of you travelling to Dinner Plain or Mount Hotham this winter season, this is not a restaurant to be missed!

Tsubo Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My First Snow Experience: Dinner Plain

Whenever I say, "I've never been to the snow!", I get responses like "What? Really?!" or "Are you serious?!" or "No way!". Well, it was true, up until last week, when I went on a short trip with my family to Dinner Plain.

Needless to say, I was very excited about the trip. We were tossing between Falls Creek and Dinner Plain, and after considering the fact that we weren't very keen about skiing (which has totally changed, by the way), we decided on Dinner Plain, which was much more affordable. I spent the week before shopping for jackets, thermals, pants, gloves, boots, scarves, beanies, and had to splurge a bit on all these. 

The drive was meant to be 5.5 hours, but after stopping for lunch and toilet breaks we only arrived at Dinner Plain 8 hours later. 

The scenery was magical. I think we were so lucky because there was so much snow! We were there for three days and each day we had a slightly different experience. On the first day, snowfall was very light, which was great because it gave us some time to get accustomed to it. The next day felt a lot like a blizzard as there was some wind and snowfall was nonstop. And on the final day, there was no snowfall, just sunny blue skies, which was amazing.

Here's a photo of me looking like I'm enjoying myself a little too much. (I think it was taken right after I threw a snowball at my brother.)

It was such a beautiful and relaxing holiday. We took walks around the village, played with snow, built snowmen, went on a sled dog tour and rode on a snowmobile. Naturally, we also ate a lot to keep ourselves warm.

On the last day, we decided to be adventurous and embarked on a 3km walking trail. I thought it was going to be cold and tiring, but because of the sun and the exercise, we got very warm. At one point, I had to remove my beanie, scarf and jackets because it was just too hot. It felt pretty awesome to be in just thermals and a thin sweater and pants in zero degree weather!

The combination of sun and snow is just the most enchanting thing ever.

If you are looking for a snow holiday, I would definitely recommend Dinner Plain. I don't think it is as busy as other popular snow destinations such as Mount Buller and Falls Creek, but there is still plenty to see and do. Apart from those I've mentioned, you can also ski, snowboard and toboggan (the slopes cater for beginners) or relax at the spa. There was no resort entry fee and you could either drive 10km to Mount Hotham or take the bus there. We stayed at Krystal Peaks, a three-storey property which was actually able to accommodate 8 people. We had so much space, and our backyard an endless view of snow gums and snow.

Now I can't wait to go back!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Third Wave, Prahran

Recently we were invited to try out the menu at Third Wave in Prahran. This cafe boasts a versatile menu, offering breakfast, lunch, paleo and American BBQ dishes. We dropped in one fine morning for breakfast, and immediately felt at ease with its trendy and casual atmosphere.

I ordered my staple breakfast drink, a cup of hot chocolate. While I enjoyed the hot chocolate itself, I was a little disappointed with the marshmallows served on the side, which tasted much like those from the supermarket.

Hubby ordered the combination of Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, and it arrived complete with muffins, bacon, spinach, poached eggs and an abundance of hollandaise sauce. I had a bite, and it was lovely! (I must admit that I had a lot of sauce in that one bite).

The risotto hash brown caught my eye, and it was served with a poached egg, chorizo, mushrooms and lots of rocket. I'm not usually a fan of rocket, but the flavours of all the other ingredients distracted from it, which was good for me! The hash brown itself was very tasty and crunchy. For me, there was a little too much chorizo, steering the dish slightly out of balance, but overall, it was a very satisfying breakfast.

The food wis good, but the main factor that makes me want to come back is its varied selection of dishes. I will probably try out the American BBQ next!

Disclaimer: This meal was sponsored by Third Wave. The content of this post reflects my honest opinions. 

Third Wave on Urbanspoon