Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues! In this installment, I am not going to review a restaurant (tear tear), but I am actually going to talk about a couple interesting little snacks/meals I’ve had over the past couple weeks in Korea. First, there are the school lunches.
Where to begin with the school lunches? From what I’ve heard from my orientation cohort, I think I got off pretty easy in terms of the variety and quality of food my school serves. My favorite days are either tonkatsu or “breaded pork cutlet” day or curry day. However, then there are days like when they serve a variety of cold seafood omelets where they try and see how many different types of mystery meat and tentacles they can fit in one pan. Frankly, I’ve tried them all, and I’m not a huge fan. One day, I even saw something that looked a bit familiar to me. There was a pan filled with small, purple-ish/crimson colored disks. Naturally, I scooped up a ladleful and put it in one of my tray compartments.
I chopsticked one into my mouth, and I realized that it was 순대 or Sundae. However, instead of a rich mix of vanilla, butterfat, and chocolate syrup, I was greeted with a semi-coppery flavor of blood sausage. If odd textures disgust you, stay away from this sausage’s rubbery skin. It was somewhat similar to the Polish kiszka, but the Korean blood sausage had noodles on the inside of it which kind of put me off of enjoying it more. A more positive experience during school lunch was when they were serving stir fried baby squids. Now, I’m not the biggest seafood fan in the world, but I’ve found after living in Korea that they make some mean squid dishes. This meal was no different.
The baby squids were stir fried in a sweet, orange based glaze and were accompanied by dried squid jerky on the side. I personally preferred the stir fried squids because the sauce really made the savory essence of the seafood pop, and the squid jerky wasn’t as good as the barbecue squid jerky they served on a separate occasion. It was very dry and tough which made for an unpleasant eating experience. Moving on from the more intense elements of my culinary journeys through Korea, lets talk about some junk food.
First, there was the discovery of bacon chips. Yes, bacon lovers in Korea rejoice.
There are chips that are literally shaped and flavored like bacon. I originally found them at a rest stop on my way to go paragliding, and I definitely made the right choice. The texture could be likened to a veggie chip, and it was strangely colored like a semi-raw piece of bacon. As for the taste, it actually tasted like eggs’ natural companion. Not the most natural thing in the world, but I’m glad I tried it. Moving from the good straight to the ugly, there is the Chicago Style pizza from Emart. For those not living in Korea, Emart is basically a giant department store that sells everything you could ever need. So some friends and I split the cost for a couple pizzas including one that was supposedly a “Chicago Deep Dish” style pizza.
When we opened up the box, it wasn’t the same as the genuine article back home aside from the crust. That was the least of our problems. The taste was terrible. Do not buy this pizza from Emart. Just get the regular 11,000 Won pizzas. They are a much better deal. Anyway, the taste to put it simply was everything that is wrong about Korean pizza. First, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use real cheese since it tasted like we were eating sticks of non-salted butter. On top of that, we were greeted with a lovely flavor wave of very sweet Korean pizza sauce. I’m not sure if the pepperoni was real, but it was the only redeeming feature. In short, it was the perfect storm for a terrible pizza recipe. Putting this unpleasantness behind us, lets talk about some sweet things.
I have spoken about my love for my Kindergarten classes before, but I might also be swayed by the fact that I get free food from the teachers every time I teach. One of the best days was on Childrens’ Day because I got something that didn’t think existed: Korean bakery. Up to this point, I had been inundated with so many different types of tteok or “rice cake” that it would make your head spin, but today was a special day with special food. On my tiny plate, they served me 소보로 빵 or Soboro Bbang which I could only describe as a type of peanut infused streusel bread. The bread itself was light and airy which was complimented by the generous, peanut butter crumble topping. It was like a messier and sweeter version of a peanut butter sandwich. Not something I was really complaining about when I was siting at a table that was lower than my knees. In more recent news, today I received another sweet treat from one of my coteachers that inspired me to write this post. I don’t know what they’re called in Korean, but I’m going to call it a Yuja cookie.
Yuja is the Korean name for citron which is a fruit that is similar to a lemon. I first tried the fruit in a traditional Korean drink, 유자차 or yujacha, and I was instantly hooked on its sour and semi-bitter bite. With the cookie, the bitterness of the jellied citron pieces was toned down to a certain extent, but it still blended perfectly with the buttery crust that was not too crumbly. It was a pleasant surprise to start the week off right. So that’s about it for now, but keep watching for my next post that will most likely be about the best fish and chips shop in Seoul.