Friday, May 18, 2007

Korea (Kimchi, Pul-go-gi, and Mechu) vs. Japan (Slimy Octopus)

Vanessa Smith, currently in Korea on a cultural exchange program with the Rotary, sent in the following entry about Korean cuisine and dining etiquette .


Lots of Fish. Pork. Chicken or Duck. Tofu. Ocassionally Beef. Lots of Vegetables. Spices. Dipping Sauces. Our host Rotarians have been treating us like Kings and Queens, taking us to the best restaurants for lunch and dinner every day. They feed us so much, we feel like we are bursting at the seams all day long! But the food is DELICIOUS.
We often do not have a plate: you just use chopsticks to grab the food you want, dip it in a yummy sauce, often place it in a lettuce leaf which acts as a wrap, and stuff it in your mouth! No mini bites allowed. If you are not completely into double-triple-quadruple-...-dipping, then Koran-style dining is not for you! Kimchi (fermented cabbage in a spicy red pepper sauce) is served with every meal. Often the meat is cooked on a grill in the middle of the table, while you are dabbling into the huge variety of veggies and sauces and appetizers with your chopsticks. Always is lots of mecha (beer) and Soju (potato wine - 20% alcohol) served with every meal. "Con-bay"! (Cheers!) So so messy, and the spicy food induces some sweat and tears - those clever Koreans thankfully have a tradition of placing a wet towel for every place setting. Fave Food of the Week: Pul-go-gi, which is broiled beef marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame salt, pepper, grilled onions, garlic, ginger, rice wine; all broiled together. Dessert: tea (Korean, ginseng, or green), coffee, and fruit. For breakfast, no cereal, toast, eggs, or croissants (except for those families who have succombed to unhealthy Western influence: they have the same foods (with an occasional egg thrown in for good measure).

Dining traditions and etiquette:

Shoes are always left at the door. Sometimes, slippers are provided for us to wear. Seating is on the floor, either on a cushion or a chair with no legs. It is difficult for us Westerners to sit cross-legged for 1-2 hours without developing leg cramps. We're managing though...the food is so worth the formalities! It's fun, anyway - learning and respecting their traditions. Metal chopsticks are used for every meal - at home or in the restaurants. Slurping and burping is polite (indicates satisfaction in the food), but using your fingers and leaving food on/in your plate/bowl is not. Pouring your own drink is a no-no: it is tradition to pour for one another. The pourer holds the bottle with the right hand and grasps his right arm with his left hand. The receiver holds his glass in the same manner. It is considered polite to always be on the lookout for empty glasses and remedy the situation in short order! Then, "Con-bay!" And "Con-bay!" And "Con-bay!" some more!

The Group Study Exchange (GSE) program of The Rotary Foundation is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for young business and professional men and women between the ages of 25 and 40 and in the early years of their professional lives. The program provides travel grants for teams to exchange visits between paired areas in different countries. For four to six weeks, team members experience the host country's institutions and ways of life, observe their own vocations as practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas.
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