Korean Food for Thought


Before coming to Korea, I had only tried Korean food a handful of times. Although my hometown community is diverse, there are almost no Korean restaurants; I can think of one at the top of my head. However, whenever I visit my friends in Seattle, I know I can count on some delicious Korean food. It might seem strange to study abroad in a country whose cuisine I have only tried a small number of times, but to be quite honest, I fell in love with Korean food from those handful of times. And since being here, the food has never disappointed.

As I am now nearing the end of my program (unfortunately), I wanted to reminisce on the incredible meals I have had because while they have been delicious, it was also a learning experience. Quarantine food aside, can you guess what was my first Korean meal? That is right: Korean BBQ. This meal is definitely among my top 5 favorite Korean meals because it kind of reminds me of Mexican carne asadas which are essentially barbecues. I had Korean barbecue before but to eat it while in Korea was an entirely different experience. However, while my friends and I enjoyed the meal, we definitely had some culture shock moments. For example, during that first meal we learned that each cup has a specific function. The smaller tin cups are for water, while small porcelain cups are used for tea or alcohol. During that meal, my friends ordered Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and accidentally poured it in the wrong cup. The waiter simple stared at us and we were beyond embarrassed.

Another favorite, yet completely different meal I have had while in Korea is naengmyeon which are cold noodles. I cannot be more grateful to our mentor because without his help I would have eaten naengmyeon entirely wrong. First off, because the noodles are cold, they are served with a tea which you are supposed to drink after eating. After the tea arrived, however, I immediately tried to pour some and my mentor said it was okay to drink some before but it would be best to drink it afterwards as it warms you up after eating the cold meal. Next, while preparing to eat the noodles I noticed they were extremely long and our mentor told us we are supposed to cut the noodles using the scissors they gave us. I had never used scissors to cut up food so this was a new experience. However, after mixing up the noodles and the sauce, I was more than excited to eat—and they did not disappoint. It was a strange feeling to eat cold noodles and drink the cold broth, but it was delicious.

I have made my fair share of mistakes while being here, and although I am only discussing some food related mistakes, trust me, there are tons more. This post is not meant to discourage me nor anyone else, but rather to think back on these mistakes as funny memories. I cannot believe some of the mistakes I have made but the fact that I understand why those are mistakes now lets me know that I have gotten accustomed to Korean culture, and that makes me beyond happy.

*Also, my apologies for not having a picture of Korean BBQ, but enjoy one of my favorite Mexican meals (torta) which is just as good and which I also ate during my trip to Itaewon, Korea (it was super, super yummy!)