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Minggu, 06 Maret 2011

What is that? - First impressions of Korean Food

When I first arrived in Korea my new employer immediately took me out for dinner. We found a small hole in the wall restaurant and he ordered food for the whole table. After fifteen minutes, waves of dishes started making their way to our table, and soon our entire table was flooded with a variety of small dishes. I scanned the table and I couldn't identify a single dish, a terrifying thought for a fussy eater like myself. After I sampled some of the table's offerings, my boss turned to me and asked "So what do you think of the dog soup?" Shocked and confused I turned to face him only to be met with smiles and chuckles.
I will be the first to admit that my knowledge on food, even of the western variety, is fairly limited. And when I arrived in Korea I might have well been on another planet with all the unidentifiable foods I came across. On this alien planet one dish in particular managed to
Now, if your talking staples, then along with sticky rice, Kimchi has to be considered one of Korea's favourite dishes. Kimchi is made by fermenting seasoned vegetables and it comes in hundreds of different forms. This 2600 to 3000 years old dish generally has a varying degree of spice to it, and the number of different types is staggering. There is nabak kimchi (radish water kimchi), oi sobagi (stuffed cucumber kimchi), yeolmu kimchi (young summer radish Kimchi), gat kimchi (leaf mustard kimchi), pa kimchi (green onion kimchi), vangbaechu kimchi (western cabbage kimchi), gul kkakdugi (diced radish kimchi mixed with oysters), and many more. Kimchi is also one of the healthiest Korean foods. Even "Health" magazine placed it in the top five of the world's healthiest foods. Kimchi is an important part of Korea's sense of identity and it is embedded in their culture and history. Families even enjoy this spicy cabbage with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There is so much variety in the food found in Korea that I would be doing the culture a disservice by trying to mention it all in this post. But some of the main dishes in Korea are the following: boiled/sticky rice (the staple of the Korean diet), guk (soup), tang (thick soup), ijigae (stew), namul (vegetable dishes), gui (grilled dishes), sanjoek (beef and vegetable brochettes), iijim,(pan-fried dishes), pickled and dried foods, hoe (raw fish or meat), ssam (vegetable leaft wraps), and muk (jelly).
When you find yourself sitting at a Korean table, there are a number of cultural factors to consider. One of the most important is to show respect for those older than you. Traditionally, the order at which one sits at a dining table is arranged according to rank, with the youngest being seated closest to the door, and the eldest at the head of the table. When consuming alcohol it is courteous to pour the glass of the eldest first with two hands and, when receiving or being poured drinks, do so with either two hands on the glass or with one hand on your chest. This is a polite gesture and is made out of respect for elders. Another interesting cultural point of etiquette is when actually drinking alcohol with an older person, it is customary to turn away before you drink, as not to be seen drinking it. And when somebody older than you offers you a drink, you should try to oblige him or her, as rejecting this gesture could be considered offensive.
Because a lot of the Korean dining experience is a social affair, it is considered polite to not finish your food before others, especially with those older than you present. As with most western cultures, once the head of the family starts eating the rest of the table follows. Observing basic table manners shows cultural sensitivity and respect. As a foreigner you will largely be forgiven for any lapse in this regard but taking note of some of these will put you in good standing.
Keep an eye on HanCinema's blog, as I will be taking a look at specific Korean dishes, restaurants, fusion foods, Korean interpretations of Western dishes, snacks, drinks and more!
Be sure to visit Korea's offical tourism site, to find out more on Korea's unqiue and vibrant food culture!
find its way onto almost every table I sat at -- Kimchi!

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