I really couldn’t title this post “Korean food,” since my experience here has mostly been limited to university cafeteria food, but food here has been very significant for me.
My expectation in coming to Korea was that food wouldn’t be a problem, and that’s pretty much been true. The exception might be breakfast. As I realized/remembered on the plane ride over, breakfast in Korea consists of the same kind of food you’d have at any other meal. Not good news for someone with a sensitive stomach in the morning.
Here’s a typical breakfast:
And here’s a typical lunch/dinner:
These are from the first week, where the food was still new and seemed photo-worthy. But don’t
worry, there will be plenty of non-cafeteria food pictures to come.
At Jungwon the food isn’t bad (in my opinion) but there have been a few strange dishes. Like 멜치 (anchovies) with banana chips. I like Korean-style anchovies a lot, but I’ve never had bananas inside any Korean dish. The shrimp and bananas was also somewhat unpleasant.
Despite a few hiccups, the food has been largely comforting to me. And not in the stress-eating kind of way. Nothing can beat Mom’s (or 엄마’s) cooking, but at in the midst of completely new experiences and constantly-changing schedules, there is always kimchi, and doenjang jiggae, and bidem namul. (Warning: I may be completely butchering the romanization of these words.) And while the fried chicken a few days ago was great, I’m good with rice every meal. I may not be able to hold a coherent conversation with the 아줌마(older, middle-aged woman) at Ediya Coffee, or the drunk man at the convenience store for that matter (should’ve pretended I didn’t know any Korean), but I can get excited when the cafeteria serves yongun-jorim or has fresh kimchi. The fresh kimchi really made my day.
I’ve eaten in town a few times as well…but mostly for 팟빙수/patbingsu.
팟빙수 is a dessert made with shaved ice, red bean and small pieces of rice cake. In my opinion, the best ones also have fruit and a little ice cream. DELICIOUS. It comes in a large bowl meant to be shared between two or three people. I’ve already been three times…
There are variations, which are just called [name of topping] + 빙수 (bingsu). I’ve tried mango빙수,
green tea빙수, berry빙수and chocolate mint빙수. Persimmon is next on the list.
Monday night, I also ate out with a couple friends at 피셔&그릴, which are English words written in the Korean alphabet: Fish & Grill. It was mostly empty at the time we went, as were the majority of places we’d passed (although it was only around 7pm). One of our orientation coordinators told us that many people in the town were low-income families who don’t go out to eat very often. For me, this really emphasized our privileged status as (at least relatively) well-off foreigners. Regardless of anyone’s background, we’ve all been given free room and board, and three meals a day. On top of that we receive an allowance and will soon be entering a very well-paid job. It’s uncomfortable, as is any privilege, but I’m glad to be aware of it.
Back to Fish & Grill – we ordered pork and veggie skewers, which I enjoyed, and 개란마리 (translated on the menu as “egg rool”). 개란마리is not an egg roll either. It’s an egg, sometimes with very small pieces of vegetables like carrot or squash cooked into it, that is literally rolled up. Fortunately we realized this before we ordered, but decided to try it anyway. The egg had an interesting assortment of toppings, which I could have done without, but I was happy to take a break from cafeteria food.
Finally, there is one more very important point I want to address. Coffee.
For the first three days I had no coffee. Not a drop. Finally I gave in a bought a can from the university convenience store. They even have warm cans of coffee there.
The thing about coffee here is that most people drink it instant. It seems tougher to get regular coffee grounds, and I don’t have a coffee maker or French press in any case. But on a trip to the grocery store, I finally got myself a box. We have a water cooler in the hallway that has hot water, and I use the mugs I got as a gift on my middle school visit (thank you용곡중하교!) If I notice my box of coffee before going to bed, I go to sleep excited to have coffee in the morning. I don’t know if having food or drink that’s not from the cafeteria is what’s exciting, if coffee’s just something familiar, or if it’s the fact that I don’t really eat snacks here. But now I’m going to bed looking forward to a cup of coffee in the morning.
Bonus! Here’s a sweet potato latte from this cute, pink coffee shop on a hill: