Feb 082006

One of the greatest things about traveling is the opportunity to taste all of the different foods that the world has to offer. You can find pretty much anything you want in America, from hamburgers to Pad Thai, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that nothing compares to eating a dish in its native country.

For those of you readers who are friends from back at UCSD, you’ll know exactly what I mean – I’m sure you’ve all sampled real Mexican food down in Rosarito or Tijuana a number of times. Now just imagine that there are places in America where people think that Taco Bell is Mexican food. That’s the level of difference between the Korean food you find in Japan and that which you find in Korea itself.

But even if you’re an adventurous eater like myself, there’s always the problem of not being able to read menus or communicate your order in a foreign language. I tried doing the order-by-pointing thing in China once before and it didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d hoped. I therefore often find myself limited to the more touristy eateries.

But not in Korea. With a bunch of native speakers who not only know which dishes are the best, but often which specific restaurants make them better than the others, it’s safe to say that this trip has turned into a dream for my taste buds…and a nightmare for my digestive system. Every time I finish a meal it seems like not even five minutes pass before someone says “Oh my god, you haven’t tried (strange-named food) yet! We’ve just got to pop in to that shop over there for at least a little taste!

And I will tell you right now that there is no such thing as “a little taste” in a Korean restaurant.

It’s actually pretty interesting how the meals work over here: instead of bringing a separate plate for each person, the meal almost always comes in the form of big communal dishes. Everyone just reaches in with their metal chopsticks (that’s right, metal) and pulls out whatever they want. The Western rule of “don’t reach across the table” couldn’t apply less.

In addition, the main dishes are always accompanied by an astonishing number of little side dishes of fish, rice, sea weed, pickled vegetables, and so forth. I can’t imagine what a nightmare it must be to work as a dishwasher at a Korean restaurant.

So this is what we did on our next day in Busan. We ate. And ate. And ate.

But to describe it in a bit more detail than that, I’ll pick up where I left off on my last post: at Busan University.

Chie, her brother and I walked around campus for a bit before ending up at the soccer field. The plan was to just kick back and relax on the bleachers for a bit after a full day of running around the city. Instead, it turned into a competition between Chie’s brother and I on the climbing rope/pull-up bar.

Like Israel, the Korean government requires that every male (actually, in Israel it’s not just the males) serves two years in the army. Chie’s brother is in the middle of his term and just came to Busan for the weekend to spend a short New Year’s break with his family. Upon seeing the fitness set-up near the soccer field he was quickly reminded of his army training. So we went at it. And I destroyed him.

I can’t wait to get back into a real USA gym in just a few weeks.

During this little workout fest we were approached by an old man who overheard us speaking Japanese. Because of World War 2, almost every elderly Korean is fluent in the language (Korea was actually annexed by and considered part of Japan for over a decade, but was declared independent again once the war ended).

Just another one of the countless encounters brought on by the curious sight of a white guy speaking Japanese in Korea.

Then we decided to at last call it a day. Chie’s dad had offered to take the three of us out for some Kimuchi Nabe dinner, and as it had already been a full twenty-six minutes since our last meal we decided that we’d better get moving.

I guess after this trip I won’t be complaining about having gotten too skinny in Japan anymore 🙂

  5 Responses to “Korea, Part 4: The Food”

  1. Isn’t it strange having communal dishes and everyone reaching in where other people are eating. That is the only way they do it here in China and it still gets to me some times. But once I taste how good the food is, I couldn’t care less.

    Glad you are having fun

  2. I stumbled upon this site unexpectedly and was instantly addicted. As a person who has never visited Japan, I appreciate you accurate portrayal of it. Keep up the good work, and please post more pictures of food! 🙂

  3. is it me or does your hair look REALLLLLY dumb in that last picture??

  4. Nope Jeff, that’s just you…I think it is in fact YOUR hair that looks really dumb 😉

    Thanx Casey, I’m always glad when new people find my site interesting – and even MORE glad when they let me know about it!

    Andy: Well, on the one hand I really like it because you get such a better variety at each meal. But then, the fact that they still do it even if one person is sick…

  5. Looking at the pictures I become sad when I think about it that my next visit to Korea be no sooner than October… I’m already hungry! 🙂 The annexation lasted for grim 36 years btw.

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