Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Korean Food

When I first got here 7 months ago, I hated Korean food.  It is so different from Western-style food.  Koreans eat a lot of rice, kimchi, seafood and they make a lot of it spicy.  I definitely picked the wrong country to live in in terms of food options, because I hate spicy food.

Rice is Korea's number one meal staple.  Koreans eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I like rice, but when its served for every meal, it can get old pretty fast...not to mention, make foreigners gain weight like crazy.  I'm convinced Koreans have some biological gene that enables them to eat as much rice as they want without gaining a pound.  I simply don't know how they don't gain weight eating all those carbs...and not just carbs, Koreans eat a lot in general!  I really don't know where it all goes!

Kimchi is just as popular as rice, and is also served with every meal.  Kimchi is usually made from cabbage that has been fermented underground for a period of time, and its typically made with a variety of spicy seasonings .  During kimchi-making season in the fall, most Korean families will make enough kimchi to last them the entire year and store it in a special kimchi freezer.  In my opinion, kimchi is to Korean meals as bread is to American meals; Kimchi is always available and present on the table, and I find that to typically be true for bread in the US.

Although Korean food is a lot different than Western-style food, there are definitely some things that Koreans do better than the US.  For one, Korea knows how to make delicious fried chicken, and it's extremely popular.  It seems like there is a fried chicken restaurant on every block!  Korean BBQ is also really good, and it's a fun experience too.  At Korean BBQ restaurants you are served raw slabs of either beef, pork or duck, and you cook the meat at your table.  The meal also comes with various side dishes like fish cakes, salad, garlic, fried egg, rice, and bean sprouts.  Most people wrap small portions of the side dishes, along with a slice of meat, into a lettuce leaf to make a burrito-like wrap.  Korean BBQ is definitely my favorite.  Eating out is also very reasonably priced, so my friends and I like to hit up our favorite BBQ restaurants every weekend.

Since I've mentioned Korea's most popular foods, I guess I should also mention Korea's most famous drink: Soju.  Soju is a native Korean alcoholic beverage made from...rice (surprise, surprise)!  Soju is almost always consumed neat, in a shot glass.  In my opinion, Soju looks, smells, and tastes like rubbing alcohol.  Soju is especially popular at my school's staff dinners, where everyone is encouraged to take shots of Soju together after the principal and vice-principal give their speeches.  I just grin and bear it, and sometimes (if I'm lucky) there will be a bottle of Sprite at the table to finish off the Soju with.    

Besides rice and kimchi, another thing you'll definitely see during Korean mealtimes is chopsticks.  There is just no getting around using chopsticks.  Using two metal sticks instead of a fork to eat was  quite an adjustment, and it wasn't easy.  Fun fact: Korea is the only country to use metal chopsticks, everywhere else uses wooden ones; the metal chopsticks are also harder to use...lucky me, not!  While it took me a little while to master my chopstick skills, I can now proudly say that I'm pretty good.  I can say this confidently because my coworkers have told me numerous times how well my chopstick usage has improved since first coming here; I think they were pretty worried about me the first few weeks.  Now, I can twirl noodles around them and eat chicken wings with them too (both of which are harder than it sounds, trust me..)

If you ever get the chance to walk into an authentic Korean restaurant, you'll probably find it odd that there are no chairs; this is because it is normal for people to sit on the floor while eating.  There are some restaurants here that have regular tables and chairs, but many places just have short tables to sit at.  Sitting on the floor while eating was just another thing that I had to get used to once I moved to Korea.  Besides the fact that your feet and/or legs are almost guaranteed to fall asleep, eating on the floor isn't so bad.  

Sharing is a major part of Korean culture, and that especially includes sharing food.  At restaurants, whatever everyone orders is pretty much fair game to anyone.  With that being said, if you have a germ phobia, Korea is not the place for you.  When I say everyone shares food, it also means everyone shares germs.  There will absolutely be other pairs of chopsticks in your food (besides your own), and its not uncommon for multiple people to share one bowl of soup (as in one bowl, with multiple spoons dipping into it).  This sharing concept is just something I've become used to, and it doesn't really bother me anymore, but it was definitely odd when I first arrived.

Now that I've given you the basics of Korean food, I hope that you might venture out and try authentic food from Korea or even another culture.  It's always exciting and interesting to try foods you haven't tried before, especially when it's so different than what you're used to.   Check out more of my blog at  http://kyleeinkorea.blogspot.kr/2013/10/


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