A Month of Korean School Food: Days 16-25: Finale!
It’s fitting that the finale of this series on Korean school food coincides with our last few weeks as English teachers in Korea. It’s a bittersweet end to our two and half-year relationship with the Korean diet. Sometimes love and appreciation for a different cultural food comes immediately. In Korea, the diet was a love I had to take a lot of chances on. It had to woo me, and I allowed it. Over time it has become a culinary experience that I will always cherish.
Day 16: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Apple & Tangerine Juice. 2. French Toast: It’s an odd western addition that I’ve seen rarely–but not without a Korean twist: added garlic and without syrup. 3. White Kimchi: Kimchi without the chilli pepper (my personal favorite kind of kimchi) 4. Fried Kimchi Bibimbap: My favorite version of bibimbap. 5. Bean Sprout Soup.
Day 17: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Radish Kimchi. 2. Tofu: seasoned with a garlic and soy sauce. 3. Spinach with Crab: As I’ve stated before, Koreans tend to serve their vegetables overly wet to the point that they are soggy. I’d love to have this dish with dry spinach leaves! But alas, I cannot. 4. Rice with Black Beans. 5. Spicy Chicken & Veggie Soup.
Day 18: Beginning at the top, from left to right: 1. Cabbage Kimchi. 2. Donkas: Pork Cutlet. For more information and how to cook donkas, check out this great blog post! 3. Cucumber Salad: caked in pepper paste. 4. White Rice. 5. Fish & Veggie Soup.
Day 19: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Broccoli: Steamed and covered in a sweet & spicy sauce. 2. Chicken & Potato Medley. 3. Cabbage Kimchi. 4. Rice with Beans. 5. Mandu Soup: Mandu are what the Koreans call dumplings.
Day 20: Beginning at the top from left to right: 1. Processed Pork: This is what my teachers told me…but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s glazed spam. Interestingly, Koreans LOVE spam. 2. Dried Seaweed: Dried seaweed is usually used to wrap around rice. It has a light texture and a very salty taste. 3. Cabbage Kimchi. 4. Bibimbap: This was a very simple bibimbap. Often these mixed rice dishes are loaded with a lot more vegetables and pork or tuna. 5. Tofu & Mushroom Soup in a Soy Broth.
Day 21: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Radish Kimchi. 2. Spaghetti: Another example of western influence on the Korean diet. 3. Fried Fish: in curry batter. Fried fish in Korea isn’t the convenient beer-battered fish filet one can find in American grocery stores. This fish usually has the skin and often the bones still intact. Talk about difficult to eat with chopsticks! 4. Rice. 5. Spinach Soup.
Day 22: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Cabbage Kimchi. 2. Bulgogi: This is finely cut marinated beef. Beef is extremely expensive in Korea, so bulgogi isn’t served for lunch very often. It’s high cost is due to the fact that Korea imports most of its beef from Australia, due to the small amount of grazing land available at home. Bulgogi is AMAZING, and it’s so popular in Korea, that McDonald’s in Korea has a Bulgogi burger permanently on their menu. Learn more here. 3. Radish Leaves: Koreans like to use every edible part of many vegetables. It’s common to be eating garlic stems, radish leaves, and many other plants that I’m not familiar with. 4. Rice with Corn. 5. Seafood & Tofu Soup: very spicy.
Day 23: Beginning at the top from left to right: 1. Radish Kimchi. 2. Tteok: Rice cake with pork in a salty sauce. 3. Squid & Cucumber salad: with a pepper sauce. 4. Rice with Peas. 5. Spinach & Tofu Soup.
Day 24: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Cabbage Kimchi. 2. Duck with Mustard Sauce. 3. Leafy Vegetable: As I stated earlier, there are many times that I have no idea as to the name of the vegetable I am eating, nor do my Korean co-teachers seem to know the English equivalent. 4. Rice with Millet. 5. Fish, Tofu & Veggie Soup.
Day 25: Beginning at the top, from left to right. 1. Chocolate Muffin!: Koreans tend to find western dessert too sweet and rich, so if you can imagine subtracting 50% of the sweetness from your typical dessert, you’ll be close to knowing how this muffin tasted. Korean-made milk chocolate is nearer to tasting like candle wax than the rich delicious chocolate one can get in countries like Switzerland. 2. Orange Slices. 3. Radish Kimchi. 4. Bibimbap: as you can see this bibimbap is much heartier than the one previously listed. The red sauce on top is salty, and mixed with octopus tentacles. Yummy! 5. Tofu Soup.
After following along with this series on Korean school food, I’m sure you’ve drawn some of the same conclusions as I have over my time in Korea. Generally speaking, the Korean diet is VERY different from what I grew up on in America. More specifically, it largely lacks processed food. Koreans are so obsessed with the freshest food that their meat-driven restaurants (such as BBQ, & Steak Houses) advertise with pictures of live pigs and cows, or raw meat! So before you enter one of these fine establishments, expect to be greeted by pictures of happy cows grazing in wide-open fields. Aside from the processed food, another huge food group that Americans depend on that Koreans avoid is dairy.
The traditional Korean diet lacks milk, cheese, and butter. These products sit heavy with Koreans, and many are lactose intolerant. However this doesn’t seem to deter the thriving pizza industry where the average pie will only run you about seven USD. Unless of course you head over to Pizza Hut where our favorite bulgogi pizza sets us back about twenty-five dollars for a regular size pan-crust pizza.
Lastly, another key difference between traditional Korean and western diets is bread. This includes pastries, fried food, sandwiches, desserts, and etcetera. It hasn’t been until modern times that bread based foods have started to gain a foothold in the modern Korean diet. Strictly speaking though, Korean food and bread don’t go hand-in-hand. I remember over a lunch with my head teacher (a traditional Korean male in his mid-fifties), he told me that his wife tried to give him some bread for breakfast. He said he got upset and told her he wanted what a normal Korean eats for breakfast: rice, kimchi, soup, and maybe some bulgogi. He shook his head and said, “my kids like to have bread for breakfast…but I never will.” I laughed at his story, but it’s very telling of how the Korean diet is changing quickly. Koreans who were children during the Korean War still hold proudly to their distinct and unique food culture, while their children have begun to embrace the many types of western foods involving bread. One can find a Paris Baguette (a popular bakery) on most streets in Korea.
The spicy, colorful, obsessively fresh, anti – preservative diet that is Korean is a culinary experience everyone should take the opportunity to try. If the only Asian food you can say you’ve had is from the local Panda Express Chinese fast food restaurant, than you’ve been deprived of what else Asia has to offer! Find your local Korean restaurant (or family) and have fun exploring this awesome landscape of taste.