Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Korean Review: Day 3 – Red Paste Everywhere!


I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not a fan of Korean food. It’s definitely not the first type of food that I will gravitate towards when given the choice of places to eat at. Those spots are still reserved for Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, and Carlos O’Kelly’s. Heck, before I came to Korea, I couldn’t have listed even five Korean foods!

One of the biggest drawbacks to Korean food for me is the flavor of  a lot of the food. I’ve taken on the following mantra during my time here: If there’s red ANYWHERE in the vicinity, pass it by. I’m not a big spice fan. Never have been and probably never will be. However, sometime it feels like EVERYTHING in Korea is doused, marinated, and covered with red paste, a spicy sauce that just screams Korea!

This is applied to everything from kimchi (fermented cabbage) to salad to beef. The Koreans claim that it’s good for health (as is everything that you do/eat in Korea), but I just claim that it’s too much and repulses me from eating Korean food. If they would just leave this as an option to add onto the food, then I might have a different opinion. 

Kimchi - How I will NOT miss thee...
Don’t get me wrong; there are some Korean foods that I enjoy. The BBQ joints (restaurants that have a grill in the middle of the table and then deliver raw meat that the customer cooks themselves) are some of my favorite places in all of Korea. Dakgalbi (chicken ribs and vegetables) and samgyupsal (pork belly) are two Korean staples that I’m quite fond of actually. Both of these meat based cuisines are very popular amongst both foreigners and Koreans alike. 

Samgyupsal - my absolute favorite!

Dakgalbi
Another staple of every Korean meal is rice. Rice to Koreans is like bread to Westerners. They have it at every single meal. Some days, this was the only thing that I would eat at lunch (normally on days when everything else had a red tinge to it). Another interesting aspect of Korean meals is that they have soup at almost every meal. Doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, the soup serves as their liquid for the meal. Me, I brought my water bottle to lunch every day. After receiving odd, sideways glances for the first couple of months, a few of the other teachers followed my example. I’m quite the trend setter. 

Another differing aspect of eating in Korea is the fact that everything is communal. When you order food, it comes on one plate and everyone shares. There are always numerous side dishes, ranging from salad to kimchi to corn (my favorite, though it’s definitely of the Green Giant variety) to silkworms (absolutely disgusting and revolting!). Sharing these dishes with everyone at the table took a bit of time to get used to. Sometimes a small, boiling bowl of soup is included as well. There will be one bowl for 8 people. Happy sharing everyone!

Traditional Korean Meal - complete with copious amounts of free side dishes!
Foreign foods can definitely make or break an experience in a foreign country. I’ve had my fair share of weird cuisines over the years. Escargot in Paris. Live squid/octopus/eel/fish eggs in Japan. Stinky tofu and chicken butt in Taiwan. Silkworms in Korea. Each experience provided its own challenges and hurdles. Upon my return to the United State, you’ll find me anxiously waiting for a nice, big juicy hamburger and avoiding anything with a hint of red.