Hello again! It’s been a while, and I sincerely apologize. We have been in Korea for a month now. I cannot belief how fast the time has gone by. Since being here we have already experienced birthdays (both lunar and solar), going away parties, welcoming parties and a whole bunch of other Korean craziness! That being said, we have also had our ups and downs- and I have had a very bad case of Cape Town homesickness. I constantly checked every CT Facebook page and laughed way harder at every Capetonian joke than it deserved. I have also had a few teaching and co-worker obstacles I had to overcome. I ‘m not there yet, and will dedicate one, or even two, full post on the topic. For now, I want to talk about something that makes most of us very happy – food!
When our contract said lunch was included (and we get paid 5000Won for breakfast and dinner) I thought it was a sweet deal…and then I tasted the food. It is outright insane! The food we get is the traditional Korean menu, plus a table of foreign foods just for us and our foreign coworkers. The traditional Korean meal consists out of rice, soup, banchan x3(Korean side dishes) and one form of protein (usually chicken or pork). I have never left the cafeteria unsatisfied or hungry. We are at the point where we don’t eat breakfast, and cook dinner maybe once or twice a week.
As for restaurants, the options are limited. You can go full on Korean with the traditional shared meals and 10+ sides, or you can go for Koreanized Italian, Chinese, American or whatever you feel like. Just be aware when the restaurant says ‘Chinese’ (or any other foreign cuisine), it usually includes a few Korean twists.
Our Korean co-workers thinks that we all love buffet style restaurants. We were taken to Ashley, a Koreanized Western food style buffet for our first lunch when we had to complete our last paperwork. We paid about 10 000 Won for the Buffet option, which includes all the usual suspects. Most of the food was very American, but prepared in a way that it seems the Korean chef only saw the dish in one of his favorite movies and guessed the ingredients. We were also taken to Ashley W (which I think stands for Wine, because we had unlimited wine for 3000 Won extra). This branch was bigger, with more food options and also more authentic foods. My latest buffet experience was at Sung’s. This one I found very enjoyable, firstly because of the company, and secondly the amount of fresh foods which it included. There was also a sushi buffet, and a whole bunch of seafood (crab, salmon, mussels, and squid). The price was a bit steep, but well worth the experience. Did I mention it includes free wine and beer? Unlimited! For 34 000 Won I thought it was a bargain.
I am not an expert on fast food joints, but I can tell you that it tastes nothing like fast food back home. The Burger King (which is a fairly recent addition to the South African fast food scene), taste mostly the same, but for the rest, don’t hold your breath. Pizza? Forget to find anything similar to Debonair’s or
Roman’s. Don’t even mention Col’cacchio’s. It is not uncommon to find sweet ingredients on pizza, nor is it strange to find sweet potato and potato on you pizza. Cream cheese? Don’t go there. It is sweeter than condensed milk, I kid you not. There are a few FF options which are just as foreign to us South African as the Korean food.
Our foreign co-workers are familiar with most of the FF Joints, and can compare it with the ones back home. We can’t, so I just take and educated guess. Some of the popular FF joints include Mc Donald’s, Mom’s Touch, Burger King, KFC, Popeye’s and Mr Pizza. Lotteria is a popular Korean FF joint, and is a splitting image of Mc Donald’s.
Food is a big part of Korean culture, and everywhere you go you will be able to buy popular Korean street foods.
At the moment I’m really into Mandu (a kind of steamed bun) with red bean paste filling, as well as Tteokbokki (Rice cake with spicy sauce). You get different types of Mandu, mostly a choice of meat (Gogi), Red beans (Pat) and Vegetable (Yachae). You also get different types f Tteokbokki, varying in the added ingredients and the level of spice and sweetness. You get both these foods at little street shops, or even street food vendors in bigger cities. I also like hotteok (a sweet pancake with a filling of nuts and syrup). You will not lack in deep fried foods in Korea, since you can find a stall selling something deep fried on every corner. Deep fried shrimp in sweet coconut batter is popular, as well as fried pieces of meat/fish.
Don’t worry too much about not being able to cook your own food. The ingredients are readily available and the only thing I haven’t been able to find yet is Maize meal/ Mieliemeel. I will do a full post on grocery shopping in the near future; keep a look out for that.