There is a strong possibility that when we visit a country as tourists or stay there for a long time to work, 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. I loved it.
I couldn’t find the right word to describe the experience. So, pardon me for coining a new word – KIMCHITIZE.
Am I the first one to use this word? (Please tell me if not.)
Anyway, KIMCHITIZE is a verb. It means “to cause a foreigner to like (or fall in love with) Korean dishes/foods.”
For the purpose of this essay, I need the past participle form of the verb – KIMCHITIZED.
The first Korean food that landed on my tongue was Korea’s fabled kimchi and the first Korean dish that traveled the full length of my digestive tract was kimchi-jjigae.
It was love at first bite. I was readily kimchitized!
It’s not much with the newness to me of the Korean cuisine. I have actually read a lot of literature 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. That’s a plethora of side items. 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. It’s so hard not to pick one with your chopsticks, spoon or – fingers. You would promise “just this one” until that one becomes two – then three – then 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 salt or a bowl of soy sauce and vinegar combined 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. Then they carefully roll it making sure that it’s securely wrapped before stuffing it into their mouths.
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 bravely tried the green pepper once my bravery was gone in just a few seconds. My friends laughed at how I perspired and my face turned so red that time. Since then I avoided it like a plague and would politely say no whenever offered.
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 mouth-watering Korean dishes/foods out there waiting to be discovered losing weight is going to be a mighty struggle.
Here is a link to the articles about some of the Korean dishes/foods I have been enjoying here in South Korea.