Monday, March 16, 2015

Food For the Seoul

A goal of mine was to try the food I had only seen through a screen or picture. My first taste of Korean food was on the night we arrived.  The excitement of being in a new country kept me from going straight to bed. Riham and I made our way outside to get food.  The rice cakes, called Ddukbokki were the first thing I encountered.  I was warned they were spicy but dismissed the fear, feeling confident that my mother's spicy homemade salsa had built my immunity to spicy food.
 I was wrong.  After eating 3 or 4, I was done.  Sadly, I had to throw the rest away because others were on the same boat as I.  A note to myself was to get one and share it with the rest.

photo credit: Bella. 

On Sunday, we had our welcoming lunch.  Somehow my group got lost and it took us a while to reach the restaurant where we were meeting.  I felt so happy after Dr. Chad and Sara found it.  We all had Bibimbap and well, that is when my short lived relationship with bibimbap started. For next two days, that is all I had to eat because honestly, that is the only food I knew and the only food I felt safe ordering.  The tea on the table was delicious! I forgot to ask what kind it was but I am sure I have had it before, I just did not recognize the taste.
photo credit: Ashley Reed.

Monday-yup, bibimbap again.

 Tuesday is when I officially became adventurous and momentarily broke up with bibimbap.  I persuaded my group to try korean barbecue and it did not go as we had hoped.  We were close to Korea University and we made the assumption that we would see many english speaking students that would help us order.  It started off with the wrong foot (seriously) I forgot to remove my shoes and I received mean looks, then I mistaken the beef skewers for chicken skewers like we all wanted and ordered wrong. Then things got really interesting. One of our failed attempts to communicate included flapping our arms to imitate a chicken.  This was my highlight of the Culture shock experience.
Kritika showcasing her chopstick skills

By Tuesday night, I was back with bibimbap.  After my group (the Seoul Sistas) went to a cat cafe, we decided to get dinner. While Riham and Lizzy ordered steak, I played it safe again and ordered bibimbap along with Ashley.  I saw a teapot and ordered green tea.  Instead of a getting a cup, I got a hot can of green tea.  This was slightly disappointing and interesting all at once.  The very nice restaurant lady ask Ashley or I guess the whole table if we were Russian. I found this very amusing.

And on the fourth day, after a day in museums, I finally broke up with bibimbap.  Soon after we were let free, we made our way to the shopping districts and we found food.  Chicken skewers was what I had been dreaming for the last few nights, and I finally got my wish. I was not let down, it was delicious!

Ashley, Kritika, and Riham. 

  After a few hours of collecting souvenirs, the Seoul Sistas were hungry.  Ashley and I wanted to try Squid/Octopus but the rest of the girls were not feeling it, so it was just me and Ashley. Again, another round of struggle that brought giggles to a table nearby. This time, we were successful.  The BBQ set up was brought to our table along with the stew and the octopus was already cooked.  The side dishes were delicious.  It was a combination of rice, kimchi, soup, and salad. 

Thursday was a busy day, after we came back to the hotel from our DMZ tour, Vince, Ashley and me went out to get lunch.  We were curious about trying American food.  Not sure if it was because we really missed or to compare it to the one in the USA.  We ordered the Shrimp burger and I was highly impressed with it.  There was real shrimp in it. I found the fries to taste the same and the coke was slightly better, probably because I had not had coke in weeks. McDonald's in Seoul is very different from the United States, it had a formal atmosphere.

Later that evening, I finally had crazy exotic food.  As earlier, Vince and Ashley came with me to have dinner. As we went in, we saw a tank with octopuses in it.  We stopped to look and take a few pictures. We joked that we were giving our dinner some love prior to eating it.  I enjoyed it from beginning to end.  Our ordering was a success- stress free for us and the nice restaurant lady. We were feeling like pros already. The dish is called  Nakhi Jeongoal-korean octopus stew. I definitely was not expecting the octopus to be taken from the tank and cooked before us, this was a plus.

On our last official day in Seoul, our school activities ended early after a visit to the National Assembly.  We headed to our hotel to get ready for a night out. Ashley and I decided to do some sightseeing before meeting up with the Korean students.  We went to the Seoul Tower where we had a cocktail drink served in a plastic bag with a straw in it.  
This was funny, I have never seen this in America.

 Soon after that, we headed to Itaewon to meet the Korean students.  I felt relieved because we know had someone to help us order and make recommendations.  We had a light early dinner along with "So-meak"(soju poured into beer glass then tapped with a metal chopstick) Our last night was great.   We had food, drinks and a chance to get to know the culture through the eyes of young students.

Throughout the trip, I noticed that food plays a very important in Korean culture.  They are known for having their food cooked on the table, before them.  There is this communal table setting, that involves sharing the side dishes. This was one of my favorites things in Korean Cuisine, the way sharing takes place during a meal.

Some pictures from that Tuesday Culture shock experience

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