This is where I post articles that chronicle my gastronomic journey here in South Korea. I call this section of my website “kimchied.” I couldn’t find a better title. Thanks to whoever coined the word.
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There is a possibility that when we go to another country (either as a tourist or as a worker), we might experience culture shock. It happened to me here in South Korea. But mine is a culture shock unlike any other. It was like I was shocked, not to my dismay, but to my delight.
Which part of Korean culture did that?
It’s their FOOD!
That’s right! It’s the food. When I had my initial encounters with this element of Korean culture, I was shockingly delighted.
It’s not much with the newness to me of the Korean cuisine. I have actually read a lot about Korean dishes before. Even the Korean dramas we Filipinos are fond of watching in the Philippine give us a glimpse of what South Koreans cook and eat. What I consider, if I may say it again – “shockingly delighting” – are some things that I consider peculiar about the food part of Korean culture.
The first one I consider unusual are the side dishes (반찬 – banchan). No… not the side dishes per se but the amount. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean. The main dish is drowned in a sea of side dishes. It’s too many that you can easily say goodbye to weight loss once you see them scattered on a table. So inviting… so hard not to pick one with your chopsticks or spoon. You would promise “just this one” until that one becomes two… three… and more.
The first time I experienced that shocking delight of having lots of side dishes was when for the first time I tried 삼겹살 (samgyeobsal). Aside from the leaves, there were plenty of side dishes like steamed eggplant, soybean sprouts, cucumber salad, and some more I could no longer recall.
Shockingly delighting also, for me, is the Koreans’ romance with green leaves. They love wrapping their meat with leaves… particularly lettuce and perilla. I got accustomed to just dipping grilled meat into a plate of sauce then they’re ready to be eaten. For the Koreans, it’s different. They will get a leaf, spread it flatly on their palm then carefully pile there meat, grilled garlic, and a side dish or two. They they roll it before eating it.
It surprised me also to see how my Korean friends would ordinarily munch green pepper and garlic as if it’s just another kind of fruit or vegetable. I am okay with the garlic, though I had to grill it first. I tried the green pepper once and never have I done it again.
They say that there are four phases of culture shock namely, honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. In my case, it started with honeymoon and jumped right away to the final phase of acceptance. There were no frustrations at all. But wait… I remember that I passed through the adjustment period anyway.
And here’s what I did in the adjustment period… I needed to punch another hole on my belt because with all the Korean foods I tried losing weight is a hard thing to do. I was actually getting heavier.
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(I have to admit that I am not very familiar with literature related to cuisine so my vocabulary in this area is limited. But since I may be discussing a lot about foods that I eat here in South Korea and somewhere else, I need to be reading literature related to food, wine, cooking and dining.)