Posts Tagged food
Occasionally I am asked what kinds of food I cook after work, and I receive a response of surprise and delight in equal measure when I say “oh, mostly Korean actually. I do samgyetang a lot, and just the other night I made dak galbi for the first time”. But the truth is that here it’s difficult to make any home comforts. That’s not to say that samgyetang – whole chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in a soup infused with garlic, ginger, cinnamon, chestnuts and jujube – isn’t delicious, it’s just that quite often I crave a proper roast dinner. Or real sausages. Real bacon, for that matter. Pork pie. Crusty, unsweetened bread, too. Lasagne. Shepherd’s pie. Anything that goes in the oven… Read the rest of this entry »
Eliz and I returned yesterday evening from a nine-night layoff in the Philippines, and aside from being a more-than-welcome break from the Chinese water torture that life in Korea can be, it provided an interesting vantage point from which to sit back – Filipino beer in hand, obviously – and compare the two wildly contrasting ways of life. Often it is all too easy to just lump Asia together as one huge, 4,000,000,000-strong group of people, but a moment on holiday highlighted how wrong this is. We were eating and drinking and chatting about Korea with a family of Filipinos when one asked “how do they speak in Korea? ‘Cha du wah koh nah chang chong nahhhh?’”. It was a funny – if slightly racist – reminder of the differences between countries that from back home seem relatively geographically close despite being in reality worlds apart. At times it was tempting to slip into a worryingly anti-Korean mindset – why can’t Korea sell a litre of rum for under a pound like the Philippines do? Why can’t Korea sell Hellmann’s mayonnaise in its supermarkets? – but I realise that if things were slightly different and I was holidaying in Korea midway through a year teaching in the Philippines I’d have complaints about the latter instead. Hence, this will hopefully turn out to be a gentle comparison rather than a giant whinge.
I’ve just been inspired by a truly excellent school dinner to write again about food in Korea. What’s that? What did I have? Well, for starters, the kimchi was pretty nice today, and for the first time in a while I wished I’d had more. I had one scrumptious side dish of seasoned spinach, carrtots and beansprouts (I don’t know if this is my imagination but there seem to be two kinds here that look identical, one bland and one delicious and today’s was the latter), and another of mini sausages in a sapid spicy sauce, which overflowed into my rice section. The soup tasted like Thai red curry, which might explain why I slurped it all down with0ut a word or even an upwards glance to my co-teachers.
I kinda wanted to wait to write this until I’d tried something insane here, as Korean seems to be the place to go if you like to treat eating as an extreme sport. Regularly topping lists of expats’ craziest, wackiest, zaniest foods eaten out here is a dish called sannakji, or live octopus. I think it’s most common that the chef guts and chops the octopus before the eater kills and consumes it (important: do in that order, as there are several sannakji-related deaths a year, through asphyxiation, apparently), although one friend has told of the time she was presented with a live octopus impaled on a chopstick, only for its legs to sucker themselves onto her face once she popped the head into her mouth. But I reckon an experience like that would merit a post all on its own; and having done some research on names and ingredients before writing this, I now know that my diet here so far has been a lot less mild than I previously though, and I should have plently to sink my teeth into.
I once wrote about the time I hated Korea – about a time when my every attempt to smoothly, swiftly and successfully complete something as fundamental as shopping for supplies was seemingly blocked by an invisible force working explicitly in opposition to me. I mentally – justifiably or otherwise – lay the blame at the feet of Korea. Not a person or a group of people; but a whole nation: an accumulation of its history, geography, tradition, cultures, inhabitants and everything else that constitutes the place. I hated Korea. I later realised that what I had undergone is known as culture shock. During orientation in Jeonju (which seems like years ago, now) we were warned about this – it being the second phase that every native teacher experiences while here, after the honeymoon and before two others I’ve forgotten but that might well return to haunt me one day. I sat there and sort of scoffed to myself, however: I’m a seasoned traveler; I’ve lived abroad before; and anyway, shouldn’t culture shock hit as soon as one touches down in his new surroundings, rather than a few weeks or months down the line as this guy’s claiming? I’m not the kind of guy to go around irrationally blaming people and objects for behaviour traits that a population has cultivated for thousands of years. Of course, I was wrong – as my earlier blog will testify to – and since then I’ve caught myself muttering angrily about some Korean idiosyncrasy or other simply because I’m not used to it. Here I’ll write a little about some of the more interesting and relevant ones.