(Almost) Enjoying Authentic Korean Food

So, I asked our stage manager to send me a picture of one of their meals while they’re visiting Korea on tour.  She agreed, and very soon obliged.  Now I regret it just a little bit.

I lived in Korea for 2 years between 1997 and 1999, and I absolutely loved it.  It was my first overseas experience, and the farther away it gets in my memory, the more romantic and powerful it seems.

But I forget about all the long hours that I put in teaching, oftentimes 6 days a week.  The hours were odd, as we generally started work after the kids finished school.  We usually worked from 2-8pm or later at one of my jobs.  Compounding this bizarre schedule, the school built an apartment for a few of us foreigners in the back of the school. The school occupied the 4th and 5th floor of a small office building.  They used some kind of metal-covered styrofoam sheets to create “walls” and “rooms,” so it was anything but quiet–the kids sometimes pulled on our (locked) door before classes or when we hid inside our apartment during our 5 minute between-class breaks.

So, it was a strange experience in many ways, but a wonderful one: every day felt like an adventure, even work days.

But I really loved their food.  There was no restaurant I walked in to that didn’t serve something I found delicious.  Once I learned to read their simple characters (anyone could learn in a day or 2), I could read menus.  After that, we learned that almost every neighbourhood restaurant delivered to our door (even in the back of our 5th floor office/apartment).  Many local restaurants would even deliver their food on real plates, with real cutlery (spoons and chopsticks all around!), and come back to get them later.

With a staple of common dishes, you could sample different variations of it as you traveled around the country.   Every Korean meal would be served with a selection of side dishes, and they varied not only from place to place, but sometimes from day to day at a single restaurant.  Though I don’t think I ate anything too exotic, perhaps it was just because I didn’t realize what I was eating.  But I didn’t care, it was great.

I still imagine maybe someday going back there for another year, though the older I get, the more I think I’d settle for a vacation.  It’s a different place there now–it’s grown by leaps and bounds in the 13+ years since I lived there.  It looks far more fabulous and futuristic than I remember (most of that stuff was under construction when I lived there).  It’s a tidy, beautiful, and friendly country, full of great public spaces, national parks, and trains that run on time.

Though if I went back, it would mostly be for the food.

That’s why it made me a little sad when Oakey sent me this picture.  But thanks, all the same.

Seoul Food

Seoul, Korea - June, 2011

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