Thursday, December 24, 2009

Koren Culinary Carousal, Part IV

Things that I Like to Eat in Korea that I Definitely Didn't Like/Wouldn't Like at Home:

  • Spam/hot dogs (even though SHHHHH I used to crave this crap all of the time when I was a vegetarian). Koreans love themselves some phosphates: I eat hot dogs at least once a week here, and Budae jjigae remains one of my favorite foods in Korea.

  • Sweetened red bean. I like it in ice cream form, baked into Bungeoppang (adorable fish-shaped pastries filled with sweet, piping hot red-bean filling), with shaved ice in Patbingsu. I would go so far as to say, actually, that I love sweet red bean stuff. This is a relationship that will stand the test of time, I know it.

  • Kimchi. Cabbage leaves (or other veggies like green onions) smothered with red pepper and tossed with raw oysters, left to grow nutritious probiotics for months before emerging fermenting and delicious. I like sauerkraut: why did I ever doubt that I would like something which combines three of my favorite things (pepper, fermentation, and cabbage)?

  • Instant coffee. Koreans really like coffee, if by "coffee" you mean freeze-dried crystals + heaps of sugar/milk/cream.

    I am a coffee snob, big time. My mom's side of the family is Norwegian: we take coffee seriously. Like, six-cups-of-black-coffee-a-day seriously. Made from whole beans (expensive ones) with a grinder.

    I thought I would be struggling more, considering this. However, I've grown rather fond of the ritual of passing around the 'ole bag of space-crystallized coffee bits with my Korean co-workers in between classes. We all line up in front of the water cooler with our little mugs, with about a tablespoon o' bits sprinkled in them, and douse them with hot water. Instead of the familiar whir of the coffee grinder, I now have the sound of space-coffee tinkling against the sides of my ceramic mug to comfort me here.

  • Meatlicious barbecue. If you've ever wondered what exactly "Korean Barbecue" is, this is it: meat, grilled at your table, served with a variety of banchan (side dishes--these definitely deserve a whole entry unto themselves) and a basket of lettuce leaves/sesame leaves with which to wrap up bits of chopped up meat like tacos.

    Generally, it's up to the diner to tend to the meat, which gets cleaved up into bite-sized pieces with big kitchen scissors. All kinds of meat gets barbecued in Korea: bulgogi, or beef, is probably the most famous/popular with foreigners, but it's also the most expensive. I'm partial to galbi (pork), as seen in the pictures above. Samgeyopsal is probably the most popular amongst Koreans: it's grilled pork belly, like bacon, except fattier. An artery clogger, in other words.

    (Insert angsty paragraph seething with self-hate/bemoaning my inability/reluctance to maintain my vegetarian diet whilest in Korea)

  • Odeng (오뎅). What exactly odeng is a mystery--I've heard some English-speaking Korean people refer to it as "fishsticks" though this isn't really accurate in that odeng is nothing like the minced/breaded/frozen/microwaveable fishsticks we have at home.

    According to Wikipedia, odeng is made from pureed whitefish combined with flour and other yummy things like MSG :( Whatever. I really like it--Odeng most closely resembles a big ass noodle, looped and threaded onto a skewer and served in a cup full of hot, salty broth. I think it tastes kind of like chicken noodle soup--a perfect snack/light meal after chasing kids around the hagwon all day long.

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