#4 - Mmmmmmm, Mashisoyo!
One of the questions I get the most from my friends and family back home is about the food and the amount of dog I eat on a daily basis. I respond by telling them that I have not eaten any dog nor is it all that popular among the Koreans (although it is easy enough to find); and then I give them the Cliffs Notes on all of the standard Korean dishes. Most folks have heard of the very popular Korean BBQ, or maybe even Kimbap, Bibimbap, Kimchi, etc.
There are so many dishes that I could go on about for hours and hours but that would be boring to write so I’m not going to do that. Instead, here is a link to a really great blog that is devoted to Korean food that was started by a fellow blogger named Joe McPherson:
Joe was actually one of the guest lecturer’s at my orientation in March and his blog, as you’ll find, is very informative, very popular, and very well written. So check that out if you want an in depth idea of what the Korean food scene is like here.
I’m more interested in telling you about some of the other foods that can be found here. And let me first start by saying that if you enjoy garlic, chili paste, salt, and rice then you should board the first plane to this beautiful little country because there is A LOT of that stuff here. Simply put, Korean food is delicious or as you would say in Korean, Mah-shisoyo! There are a lot of really great dishes and I’m yet to meet someone who is having a really difficult time eating. Like I said, there are a lot of garlic, salt, and chili paste flavors and as a result of that, the food can get a bit repetitive which causes all of us to go hunting for some good foreign food.
Growing up in California has totally spoiled me rotten. I used to think that going out for international food was just a normal thing. It was always there when I wanted it and it is something that was at everyone’s convenience. On any given night back home I can enjoy really great food from almost any country in the world; Thai, Vietnamese, French, Italian, Chinese, Peruvian, Mexican, whatever. So, you can imagine my reaction when I came to Korea to find that the majority of food coming from foreign countries was 1. Extremely expensive, or 2. Very unique or 3. and usually the case… both expensive and unique.
The other day I walked by a very popular pizza restaurant called Pizza Etang, which is kind of like the Domino’s of Korea. The following is something that I had to document, no explanation needed.
In case you’re wondering… that is in fact one egg, sunny-side up in the center of that pizza. And that is in fact some sort of creamy substance drizzled everywhere. And that is in fact… I don’t really know… Coconut shavings all over the crust?? I’m not really sure what is going on here. Obviously, a standard pepperoni is available. But why would you ever want to go back to the bore of standard pepperoni when you could be eating this freak show of a pizza pie.
One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast in California is a nice, warm, doughy everything bagel complete with egg, ham, and melted cheese. Fortunately, in Korea that type of dish is available - sort of. The bagel, yes. Everything bagel, no. Ham, try spam. Cheese, yes… if you consider Kraft singles to be cheese, then yes. Actually, on a side note, real cheese is quite hard to find here, unless you go to Costco and are, as you probably guessed, willing to pay a premium. Cheese slices, always. Egg, yes. Eggs are very common here, which, being an egg lover, I appreciate. And, as always, when discussing western food in Korea, there is always that little extra surprise ingredient that smacks your taste buds like sour milk. In the case of the breakfast bagel, it is some sort of mystery jam. I think it might be apple sauce? I’m not really sure what flavor it is. But anyways, just after I sunk my teeth into my first nice, warm, doughy, slightly modified breakfast bagel… I thought “Hmmm, salty, buttery and… sweet? That’s new, and gross!" From now on, it is always "Anyeong-haseyo! Bagel-ham-cheese-uh juseyo… jelly, anio!” meaning “Hello! Bagel ham cheese, please… jelly, no!” as I put both arms up and create a large X, which I have decided is the universal sign for no or without. It’s a very effective tool.
I’m not even going to get into the Mexican food situation. Being from San Diego, I am a complete Mexican food snob and to think of what I’m missing back home just makes me too upset. It’s bad. The best remedy is to just stay away and get over it.
Ok, but what can I expect? This is Korea! This is not California. This is not the melting pot like the United States is. It’s not very common to find large communities of foreigners here from all over the world like it is in the States. And I recognize that. I don’t get upset about it and I have learned to expect very little in the form of western food while living in Korea. There are a few little hidden gems in the larger cities of Seoul and Busan, which are usually owned by expat’s. And god bless them for giving up on the dream of teaching English to supply all of us sad souls with some western conveniences.
The best thing to do about satisfying the desire for some home cooking is to either make your own or stick with what the Korean’s do best, which is make Korean food. I love Korean food… for the most part. They have some really great soups, great rice, great meat, it’s mostly all very good, although there is the occasional hick-up of fish head’s soup that I can’t quite stomach. And there are some great Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants although, most of them are very expensive, which is a shame. But sometimes, usually after a night of drinking, I yearn so badly for a 15 inch tortilla filled with carne asada, guacamole, cheese ,and salsa fresca that my mouth starts to water and I nearly tear up at the very thought of it.
Ok, I’m starving now. Thank you for reading!