Sunday, September 7, 2008

What I'm Eating, Vol. 1

It's been a few days since I've posted, mostly due to the fact that the wireless I've been freeloading off of disappeared for a couple of days, but also in part to a severe lack of energy at the end of our first week at school. So I feel like I owe you one or two. I thought I'd offer a post on what is sure to be an oft-recurring theme, and one of my favorites - what I'm eating! The food here, though often challenging for a Boulderite, grown acustumed to easy access to organic, vegetarian cuisine, is one of the highlights of the culture. Perhaps that's true everywhere, but I've talked to plenty of foreigners who have taught here and had little good to say about the place, but that they love the food.

I've started taking my camera with me whenever I go out, to catch the oddities that always catch me off guard here, and also to document what I'm eating. I've also stolen a copy of the menu from our amazing neighborhood kimbap place and started to decode it. Kimbap is like veggie sushi - rice, veggies, egg, and usually ham (none the vegetarians, thanks) - and it's all over the place here. The reason I call the restaurant a kimbap place despite the fact that they offer about 50 different dishes is that kimbap requires a special setup, a place for the rolling to happen. A roll of kimbap cost 1,000 won (about US$1) last time I was here, but seems to have gotten a little more expensive... as has, I guess, all food all over the world in the last 24 months.

As I've started going through that copy of the neighborhood restaurant's menu, trying to figure out what each thing is and if it's possible to be made vegetarian, I came upon one that was tough to decode. 원조김밥 (wonjo kimbap). Looking wonjo up in my trusty Korean-English dictionary gave me these two definitions:
1) the founder, the originator
2) help, support, assistance, aid ... economic (financial, food) aid
Looking at the price list, I noticed it is 1,000 won, making it the cheapest item on the menu. So I'm calling it "economic assistance kimbap". Nice of the restaurant to help out those of us that can't afford the real deal, isn't it!? Anyway, after that, of course, I couldn't resist ordering it, and the usual 야채김밥(yachae - vegetable) kimbap, to compare. Here are the results of that experiment:

Seems just a mushroom and a shisho leaf that are missing, though the ham that we order the other kimbap without may not have been included in the economic assistance version either.

For lunch today, we had those two rolls and my all-time favorite korean dish, 돌솥 비빔밥 (dolsot bibimbop - mixed vegetables and rice in a hot stone pot). Here's what that looks like as served:

And then as it's meant to be eaten, mixed together with 고추장 (gochujang - hot chili pepper paste), and the rest of our table.

In Korea, you might order one dish each, or at the nicer places communal dishes for as many people as are eating, and you get all these side dishes for free with them. Here, we each have a slightly spicy broth, which we get each time at this restaurant, and then on the left a plate of three side dishes which change every time we go in. This time they were, from left to right, a savory eggplant and carrot mix; a concoction that could only show up in Korea - fruit, yogurt and ham; and kimchi, which is always present in one form or another. That's what Melanie has got in her chopsticks. I couldn't stand kimchi when I was first here, but I've come to tollerate it... at a meal like this (when no Korean whose opinion of me I care about is watching), I might have two or three pieces like that. It's fermented so it's good for the belly. If a Korean I'd like to impress is watching, as at lunch at school most days, I can eat that whole portion without complaint. I imagine soon I'll come to actually enjoy it. I'm almost there.

Yesterday we went to the same place for lunch (I imagine we'll patronise them hundreds of times this year. That would barely allow us the opportunity to try everything on the menu once, and frankly, with that whole table full of food above for about US$6, why not?), and since I was feeling sick, I went for a hot bowl of noodle soup. This is 칼국수 (kalguksu - thick noodles soup), and it was perfect for my sinuses.

Melanie ordered 비빔라면 (bibim ramyeon - mixed vegetable noodle soup), and got something much too spicy for her taste.

That big red patch in the middle is gochujang, chili paste, and it's what makes Korean food so spicy. It proved tough to scoop out of that bowl. Which meant I got two lunches. ;)

More to come on food soon, I'm sure, as frankly, it's my favorite.


Alice said...

Pretty funny picture of Melanie! Her eyeballs kind of match the sushi. ;-)

Alice said...

OOps - meant to say kimbap, not sushi.

Michael Levy said...

That's right! I think Koreans would forgive you since sushi is so popular around the world, but they would also very much appreciate your calling it kimbap. Resentments built over decades of imperialism don't fade quickly.