Articles for Teachers
Dear ESL Teacher in Korea
Here are some strange and (sometimes) wonderful foods you might want to try.
1. Turtles, cats, bunnies, eels ...You can buy many live animals in the traditional markets. Koreans eat them as do the Chinese as a sort of sympathetic magic medicine. Eels often spend time in the polluted estuaries so I don't eat them here, though they are delicious. Deep water fish like pollock are safer.
2. Sea Squirts: This is me-do-duk in Korean. (See addition article next week).
3. Whale (gor-ee) meat, including dolphin. This is available in Busan, caught as a by-product of net fishing. It smells and looks like dark, fatty, fishy seal meat which I have seen and tasted in North Canada. I won't eat whale meat or blubber because so many species are threatened and because whales are top predators and store toxins in their flesh.
4. Dog? Not for me. In Korea these special restaurants have a picture of a dog on the sign outside. The local words for this stew is boshin-tang or the slang is gae soju. The term dog day afternoon came from Korea, I'm told. Dog stew is especially popular for men in the summer looking for an aphrodisiac when feeling a bit limp in the heat. Dogs are often fed on left-over restaurant food. They are sometimes chained up out back, or on farms in the countryside.
5. Wild mountain vegetables/herbs (na-mul). Koreans collect many plants from wild places and some of these are now domesticated and grown on farms. Here are a few I have tried:
Ginseng Root (in-sam)..cheapest if purchased fresh in the small root size in the open market. Take the roots home, wash them and then pop them in a soju bottle, a clear 20% alcoholic drink. I use it as a tonic. The roots are also used in a stewed chicken dish (see #7). Ginseng is a heating food and stimulates and encourages healing. Many books written about it. Red ginseng (brownish) is the steamed and dried variety. Beware of ginseng teas. Sometimes 50% is sugar or other additives. It is poor value.
Bluebell Root (dor-ah-gee) This is cultivated root (Campanula family) is pale yellow when served as a cooked side dish. Sort of crunchy. Show be grown in more countries.
Wild Anis Mint (san-cho) This is sometimes added to common cabbage soup (sereggae guk) which translates literally as garbage soup. I like it, some don't.
6. Squid (o-jing-auh): Koreans eat more squid than any other people and this is prepared in so many ways. The semi-dried snack squid with sweet chili should be marketed worldwide, yum! My favorite is the lightly boiled squid served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. When this is served fresh, hot or cold, it tastes like lobster.
7. Melt in your mouth stewed chicken (sam-gae tang). This dish uses a very young and tender chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng, ginkgo nut and a jub-jube or Chinese date. It is one of the classic Korean boiled dishes.
8. Thick Rice Noodle in Sweet Chili Sauce (duk-boo-kee) This hot red dish is an all time favorite and unique to Korea. The finger-size rice noodles are just over a centimeter thick and so soft and chewy. The sauce is made with sugar, hot water and sweet chill paste, addictive. A few shredded vegetables and boiled egg are sometimes added to the sauce. Woa-dang is added too and this is like a soya meat but contains some fish.
9. 3 Rice (Sam-bap) Take one of the fresh salad greens then add a dollop of sticky boiled rice, and piece of spicy BBQ meat. This huge thing is then folded by hand and pushed into the mouth. What a healthy combination.
10. Seaweed Soup (me-yuk guk) Pieces of green or brown seaweed are simmered till soft in a chicken or fish stock (no oil) with a few blue muscles. Lovely, and full of ocean minerals.
11. Iced Summer Dishes: There are two that stand out.
Cold Buckwheat Noodles (neng-myun) This is served with a slice of pear and beef in an iced clear consume. Wonderful and light on a hot summer day.
Iced Bean Soup with Noodles (kong guksoo) The cooked white beans are blended and this soup served with one big ice cube and cooked noodles. This dish is less common now and a bit gassy.
12. Spicy Korean Sauerkraut (gim-chi) This comes in many variations. It is a fermented food originally made in large ceramic jars buried in the garden in November. The powerful garlic, cabbage and chili smells/tastes are often too much for beginners so it does not catch on fast with foreigners. In Canada I was asked by friends to remove it from their house and put it in my car!The quality varies greatly so don't be quick to judge it. A white gim-chi is almost exactly like European sauerkraut and Koreans are not aware of that. It is full of digestive enzymes and vitamins. (See additional article next week).
Korean food is not much like Japanese and not like Chinese. It has its own character. The Koreans are the only people in the world to use steel chopsticks and they are difficult to handle. They also eat their wonderful sticky rice with long handled spoons. You can buy beautiful silver ones here. Meals always include a cup of water and a soup. Some winter meals are served in heated stone bowls. This custom goes way back to the Paleolithic and links Koreans to the Siberians and Eskimo/Inuit who also make/made stone bowls.