Ladies and gentlemen many of you were afraid that I would not be getting enough to eat. That I would be surrounded by strange and disgusting delicacies. Well have no fear; little did you know Korea is actually Hobbiton. ( You only thought it was in New Zealand) Not only am I getting three square meals a day, I enjoy tea time, elevenses, brunch, AND a midnight snack. Food is a serious business here; no joke. Korea has gone far beyond perfecting the science of food and has transcended as an art form. There is actually a philosophy revolving around the perfect blend of flavor in order to bring out the true depth of dish. (I'm not even exaggerating. A farmer gave me this whole spiel when I asked what was in the soup.) Diets are fictitious as near as I can tell. Substituting a meal with a protein shake would be blasphemy. Their undying need to try EVERYTHING has create some truly bizarre food combinations that I find myself unable to live without now. So with my darling readers in mind I have faithfully chronicled every delightful palette surprise that I have encountered. WARNING: DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE HUNGRY. JEALOUSY WILL EAT A HOLE IN YOUR GUT.
For starters every meal looks something like this. You have your main entree, soup, rice, and an assortment of sides. Every meal; no matter what time of day has three staples: Soup, rice, and kimchi. Learn to love soup, rice, and kimchi because according to Korea this is the fountain of youth. (or at least longevity. the elderly here are remarkably well preserved. I blame the kimchi.) Kimchi in particular is the standard by which you judge a meal. It's so important that in the picture above we had not one but TWO types of kimchi!! You can choose between spicy or vinegary. If you don't have all three out of three on your plate you are WRONG. (or dying. in which case eat more kimchi.) It genuinely shocked me when I learned that there is not a designated breakfast item. Breakfast soup is the same as dinner soup. (They don't even call it cereal.)
Furthermore if you're starving at school you're doing it to yourself. Not only does school lunch come with the holy trinity. (kimchi not pictured above. I was young and ignorant. I have since learned the error of my ways.) It always comes with a meat and at least two other sides. Here's the kicker. You can go back for more. Students are not limited to one paltry tray. They can eat as much as they can shovel down their throats. (Michelle Obama has nothing on Korean Ajumma's)
I have unwittingly entertained many ajushi's with my lunch escapades. When I first arrived I would pack my lunch because I couldn't afford to buy the school lunches yet. so I would sit there with my sandwich and stare in envy at the fabulous food being consumed around me. I did not realize at first that I was viewed as a snob or picky. As such the food that I brought in was viewed with disdain (I couldn't blame them) and everyone was out to prove it. Case in point a farmer at one of my schools literally laughed at my discount store apples, went out and picked a few off of his trees and gave me one to prove which one was the superior apple. (guess which one was better?)
You cannot imagine my excitement when I got my first paycheck and signed up for school lunch. (never in my life would I have thought that I would be excited about school lunch.) I have finally thrown off the picky persona and now I get to amaze my coworkers with my chopstick finesse (or lack thereof.)
Food culture in schools doesn't start and end with the cafeteria though. It extends into the teacher break room. My experience with break rooms in America is a dingy area equipped with a mini fridge and a dying coffee maker. A few of the swankier ones had a Kurieg. Not so here. In one of my schools they grind fresh coffee beans every morning. they have a latte machine. they have the cool little doohickey that turns milk into froth. A wide selection of tea for those of us that eschew coffee; and snacks. With snacks who needs lunch? (just kidding hobbits don't miss lunch for snacks.) I love walking in at any given day and having a selection of apples, pancakes, cookies, and rice cakes at my disposal. Duk is the greatest thing ever. I could eat my weight in duk.
Duk is a chewy rice cake that comes in a variety of colors and fillings.
I'm a fan of these little cakes as well. It's basically a walnut bread with sweet red bean paste filling. I've always been a little skeptical of sweet red bean paste but it turns out my concerns were groundless. The stuff is divine.
Everyone has their own go to comfort food when they're sick. Most Americans will agree with me when I say that chicken noodle is pretty standard. I have been fortunate enough to discover my replacement if I get sick here. Ox tail soup. Nobody panic. As far as I could tell there was not any bits of hair or questionably ropey pieces of meat floating around inside. This soup warms the soul.
Not everything I've eaten has been strictly Korean though. Some days I'm just sick of rice and really want a taste of home. Funny thing about living in a foreign country though is that tastes of home are few and far in between. This is not the tragedy that you're thinking it is though. 9/10 the koreafied version of your favorites dishes are better than the original.
This is a pizza; complete with a stuffed cheese crust and sweet potato topping. You read that right. The yellow that is not cheese is sweet potato and it fits right in with the pineapple topping.
Why have a Mcdouble with fries when you can have a shrimp beef burger with cream and chocolate waffle fries?!?!?!
I never knew that egg salad could taste so good with mustard seeds and strawberry jam.
Another fun facet of Korean food is just how much of a sharing culture they are. (note: if sizes are not listed next to the food item you should assume it's mean't to feed five not one.) Meals are not meant to be eaten alone. Anytime I walk into a restaurant alone they always assume that I am getting to go. Naturally I'm meeting up with other people to eat with right??? I was with a group of coworkers one night. We had just finished dinner and was looking for dessert. We stopped at this cute little cafe and I ordered a mango shaved ice. This was what I got.
It was monstrous. One more thing; when it comes to food there is no such thing as stranger danger. I was lost in Jeonju and the bus driver took pity on me and gave me a juice pouch. the guy at the store gave me roasted sweet potatoes for free. Sharing is caring apparently.
Yes the food is remarkable here. I'm slightly glad that the scale that came with my apartment has a dead battery because I am currently in the process of demolishing an entire cake by myself. (strawberries are now in season so naturally I had to buy the closest thing to short cake I could find. Which was a honeyed pound cake.)