Thursday, June 27, 2013

Three Things About Korea Guidebooks Won't Tell You

To be fair, I haven't read enough guidebooks to definitively state that these facts aren't mentioned. They are certainly things I never heard before I arrived.

The Food Is Fresh

During my first week in Korea, I ordered a strange-looking, spiral cut potato-on-a-stick thing from a small shop. It was relatively early in the day, and there was only one girl at the counter. Being the sensitive former-service-worker that I am, I felt quite guilty when she pulled the potato thing out of the freezer and put it in the deep fryer. "Wow," I told Linus when I emerged from the store, "I felt pretty bad. She didn't have any ready yet and had to make one right there for me on the spot!"

Actually, that wasn't the case. What I figured out eventually is that every food in Korea is made on the spot. Gimbap, fried things, bibimbap, barbecue, pork, it doesn't matter -- it is cooked right there, right then, especially for you. In fact, frequently they just bring you the food and have YOU cook it at the table (this is part of the magic of sangyepsal, galmeggisol, and all the other amazing Korean meat dishes). The sole exception to this rule is fried shops/street stalls. These do prepare food in advance and stack it up so you can see what is on offer. Still, even there they will usually dunk your order back in the deep fryer for a minute before handing it over to you. That way, it is nice and hot. Mmmm, fresh grease! However...

The Snacks All Taste Like Styrofoam

In Korea, nobody has to tell kids to share. They just do--especially when it comes to food. No kid brings any kind of snack to class and expects to have it all to himself! And quite often, the teacher is included in this largess. So I have had all kinds of Korean goodies popped into my mouth by tiny fingers*, and I can tell you now that, if you haven't tried these, you aren't missing out on anything. Nope, not a thing. In fact, you can make a pretty reasonable approximation of a bagged Korean snack just by sprinkling a little salt on some packing material. Not. Delicious.

Which is strange, because...

Koreans Do American Food Better Than Americans

Some day, a Korean couple is going to wander into an American country fair, and have this conversation:

"Honey, I went to go look at the food stalls, and everything is just...wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, they have corn dogs here, but they only batter and fry them once!"
"What? Not twice?"
"No! They are just sad, skinny little things."
"Do they at least cover the outside with crushed potato chips or cornflakes?"
"Not a potato chip in sight! And I saw some kids over there with chicken and soda. Their little hands were full! Haven't these people heard of Col-Pop?"
"You're right, this is just pathetic. Look at all that pizza. Not a single potato on any of them! Everyone knows that pizza and french fries belong together."

And then this Korean couple will go into business selling fair food, and within five years they will have revamped the whole industry, and we will all be eating Col-Pop and bulgogi hot dogs and chicken livers on sticks because holy shit those things are so delicious. The End.

*Don't overthink that sentence, okay?


  1. Maybe you can start a "snacks that don't taste like styrofoam business" in Korea!

  2. Hey there. Just tagged you in the post thing that's been going around:

  3. Reading about the food makes me want to try some myself x'D It sounds delicious :3

  4. I remember the ridiculous array of Lotte chocolates at every corner store.