My foodie friend Megan Greenberg scoffed at the idea that I would gain weight on anything other than Gruyère and flan during my recovery. The thought of eating school lunches and Lara Bars while wearing sweatpants for a month and a half made her reevaluate our food-based friendship.
I understand where she’s coming from. Hell, I’d much rather be eating large servings of Mexican custard and $15 grilled cheeses. But the fact is, I live in Korea. And Koreans don’t do cheese.
While pleading my case over email, I could see her look of disgust. I imagined she was drinking a large cup of Columbian coffee, nibbling on a slice of homemade quiche while typing.
“But Korean lunches are really good…” I started to type. But then I remembered, she lives in America, where mystery meats and tater tots reign supreme. I remembered the Hamburger Helper pizza special during my high school years and immediately gave up pleading my case.
Every day, the Korean teachers come by the classrooms with a cart full of white rice, large batches of hot soup and a variety of banchan (small side dishes). Some days the soup is kimchi jjigae (cabbage and tofu in a spicy broth), others it’s doenjang guk (soybean paste and vegetables), kongnamul guk (bean sprout soup) or miyeok guk (seaweed soup). Either way, it’s good.
The banchan always consists of kimchi, whether it’s spicy fermented cabbage, turnips or onions. Other banchan might include sprouts in a spicy red sauce, boiled quail eggs, squid salad, fried sweet potatoes sprinkled with sesame seeds, roasted pork, pajeon (a savory pancake), mandu (dumplings), japchae (glass noodles with pork and vegetables), anchovies, steamed egg and crab rolls, acorn jelly, fried pork and sweet potato cutlets, corn salad…the list goes on.
It’s hot, it’s savory, it’s delicious.
Needless to say, it’s no Hamburger Helper.