Friday, 13 December 2013

The Culture of Food

I like Korean food a lot: meat cooked on the bbq at your table; chicken cooked at the table with potato, spicy sauce and cheese; a vast array of soups and of course kimchi. I do, however, remember a time when I wasn't at all keen on these spicy, alien flavours. They are definitely an acquired taste and persistence is key in getting to like them.  
Koreans generally consider their cuisine to be the best in the world and are very particular about what goes with what. Restaurants often find the idea of switching things or doing something different mind-blowing. If you don't want radish in your egg, or you want milk in your Americano, your request will likely get the response of a confused look, tilted head or hands crossed in an 'X' shape. The other day we were told at a restaurant that we could have the chicken without the salad, but not the salad without the chicken.
At school we have many weird and wonderful salad-fruit combinations. It might be lettuce slathered in a tangy mayo, or with sesame seeds and spice, or blended pumpkin with melon (why not?), but one thing's for sure- it will only vaguely resemble the fruit or vegetable it once was. I used to think this was just a school thing, but I have come to realise it's a nationwide phenomena. We were recently served sweet potato pizza (seriously, how can you f*ck up pizza?),which is a replica of the popular Korean choice at pizza restaurants.
After a lot of perseverance and a fair bit of spitting out, I finally came  to love kimchi (which, for any of you who don't know, simply put, is cabbage fermented in peppery spices). It's weird and crunchy, it's good hot or cold, in soup or fried.
Kimchi Jjiage- my favourite
(but eat with caution for it will burn your face off)
But why do people eat it so much?
One reason is that it's supposed to be really good for you. According to studies it contains plenty of vitamins and has been said to lower cholesterol and help fight cancer.
I'm also convinced that it's addictive. I used to hate it and now I miss it when I don't have it. This theory is backed up by the fact that Koreans eat it at every single meal.

At the moment it's kimchi making season, so you see it all around the place in apartment stairwells being 'brewed' in big pots. I'm told that many homes here have a second fridge, solely for storing it. Koreans are known for taking it with them on holiday, so they don't have to face two weeks without it. A friend of mine once cooked a roast dinner for her friend's mum. All was going well and everyone seemed excited, until the mum-without any embarrassment at all- laid out kimchi and other Korean side dishes at the table. How unaware do you have to be to not see that this could be considered closed minded or rude? And not to mention ridiculous. It's the equivalent of going to a Thai persons house for Thai curry, sitting down at the table and pulling a jar of pickled onions out of your handbag.


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