Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meals in South Korea - The First Weekend

안녕하세요 (Anyeounghaseyo), or Hello, from Korea!  For the next 6 weeks, I'll be an intern at POSCO Research and Development Center in Songdo, Incheon, South Korea and living at the State University of New York (SUNY) Korea dormitory nearby.  For more detailed reports, please visit here :)

Along with language and other cultural differences, of course, the food is both familiar and fantastically different.  Our first meal in Korea was dinner at the SUNY Korea cafeteria.  

Soup, rice, imitation crab meat (mostly fish), bean sprouts and kimchi.
I regret to admit that kimchi may be an acquired taste.
I have not acquired a taste for kimchi.
The dinner was alright.  The food was well-prepared, but I hadn't quite adjusted to the time and wasn't quite hungry.  The soup was a warm broth of beef and daikon (white radish).  It was quite rich to my taste, since I don't really eat meat.  The rice was ordinary white rice, comforting to me since I grew up eating it with every dinner.  The bean sprouts were nutty and lightly cooked, a mild dish.  The red item on the left is the imitation crab meat, which was cooked in a sort of ketchup sauce.  The red item on the right is the kimchi.  Suffice it to say that this national dish of Korea is very distinctive, sour and spicy.  It is typically served with every meal, sometimes along with pickled daikon, which turns a bright yellow (not pictured).

The next day, we returned to the cafeteria for breakfast.  Due to a mistake on my part, we were down about a half hour before breakfast started.  Luckily for us, the women who ran the kitchen were kind enough to allow us to buy tickets and eat anyway.  They forgave our lack of Korean and directed us to the trays and food.  Several embarrassed bows and "kamsamnida"s (thank you) later, we gratefully sat down to generous portions.

I loved this meal...
The mound of rice accompanies every meal, this time white rice mixed with black rice.  Not much of a distinguishing flavor, but there was a pleasant, hearty texture reminiscent of oatmeal.  The spicy beef broth included bean sprouts and daikon, very satisfying.  Soup also accompanies each meal.  The brown, wheel-like objects at the top were lotus root slices cooked in soy sauce, a sweet-salty vegetable with a crunch.  My favorite item were the tiny quail eggs cooked in soy sauce, however.  Hard-boiled and peeled, a thin, chewy white surrounds a rich, creamy yolk that takes up about 80% of the volume of the egg.  Artery-blocking, for sure, but absolutely delicious.  I was interested to find that in Korea, water is not served with the meal.  If you order a beverage in a restaurant, they will serve it during the food.  At the cafeteria and later, the food court, however, small steel cups are provided for the customer to sip hot or cold water after the meal.

Later that day, we passed through a food court.  I was amazed at the beautiful, realistic glass copies of food that they showcased.  I didn't order anything, but I did take some photos of the food, and a friend of mine photographed the case.  Because the models are shiny and glazed, they resemble hot soup and sauce, adding to the realism of the display.

Top left photo courtesy of Rendy.

Later that night, we visited a shopping district in Songdo, the Free Economic Zone of Incheon.  Along with electrical adapters, an alarm clock and some shirts, we got dinner at a small restaurant.  We ordered three items, none of them really Korean (except maybe the chicken wings?), but all three tasty.

My dish, the potatoes in the middle, were crisp and hot, topped with a lightly wilted, sweet and spicy peach salsa. 

The next day was a trip to Seoul, the bustling capital of South Korea.  I keep forgetting to take pictures of breakfast, but it's pretty normal; we bought bananas, soymilk and cereal to save money.  More interesting is the meal we had in Seoul, in a little restaurant on the second floor overlooking the street.  By good luck, one of our group met a young woman who was Korean, but had attended school in San Diego, California.  While she was waiting to meet her friend, she kindly led us on a tiny tour of Seoul.  Eventually, our little group wandered underground and through a street food vender alley, then we met her friend (left) for lunch at this restaurant.

Our motley crew, with most of our food :)
Upon hearing that I didn't eat meat, but I did eat seafood, the lovely person we met (2nd from the left) ordered for me a bowl of crisp greens on a bed of warm rice, topped with chunks of fish and bright orange fish eggs.

Despite the promising rice and vegetables, the fish was poorly cut, with giant chunks of tendon in most of the cubes.  Still, I enjoyed this meal.  It was a refreshing change from the cooked items we had had in the last few days, with flavorful lettuce and miniature bean sprouts.  The fish eggs were a treat as always, and although I had trouble eating one whole piece of fish at a time due to the tendons, the rich taste was very welcome.

The bowl is actually huge.  I managed to eat it all, but I didn't have dinner that night until around 10pm, which was soymilk and cereal.  Of course, I forgot to photograph it again...  

More reports of food when I find the time.  Even with frequent, cheerful breaks and an hour lunch period, 9:00am-6:00pm is tiring...  My roommate is knocked out as I type, and it's only 9:38pm!  Actually, as soon as I finish updating, I think I'll follow her example...

- 안녕히가세요 (Anyeoungkaseyo)! That's "peacefully go," or goodbye :)

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