Thursday, August 17, 2006

eating to live, living to eat

Well, last time I spoke about how I thought my days would get a little easier and of course it seems like I spoke a little too soon. As of right now, I spoke about a week too soon. It seems like I got one more long week of scheduling ahead of me and after that then I will switch to the 2nd shift and hopefully better times. I know a lot of people want to know what I do. Yea, I know and I keep on meaning to explain it but I do it for a living and don’t really feel like coming home at night and talking about it so yes, sometime I will explain it more in detail beyond that “I teach English to elementary and middle school kids”.

I would like to say that my days do seem to get a little easier day-by-day. I am not sure why. Maybe it is that I am better at teaching, maybe it is that I am a little meaner to the kids and whip them in shape (don’t kid yourself though, I am still a pretty easy teacher), maybe it is I am more comfortable at home, maybe it is that I have a better command of my environment and the Korean language (not a good idea to move to a foreign country with only knowing how to say “hello” and “give me”) but it is probably all of these things.

Today, I would like to give my first of what will probably be a few rants on the food here. First of all, I need to talk about kim-chi. You have heard of this stuff, Korea is famous for it. Most commonly thought of as rotten cabbage, it does in fact come in many different varieties, flavors, and comes from many different vegetables but the cabbage variety is hands down most popular. It is really everywhere here and is served second only to rice. Anytime I go to a Korean style restaurant, maybe even other style restaurants (I think McDonald’s might even have some kim-chi in some way or another) they give it to me. Luckily, they usually give it to me for free. No kidding. Everywhere you go, they give you kim-chi for free. Kind of like chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, it is just expected, in fact demanded. Korean food has to have kim-chi like pizza has to have cheese, if it ain’t there, its not the same.

I guess rather than calling kim-chi rotten cabbage, I should give a little bit better explanation. They take cabbage, chop it up small, soak it in saltwater, wash it, add a little bit of other vegetables like onion and or garlic and then add a ton of chili pepper and I mean a ton and stick all of it in a jar to ferment. After a few days, poof, kim-chi. No cooking, just a jar, saltwater, chili pepper and time. I heard in the old days and still in some places the kim-chi has set for months before being consumed but I am fairly confident the cheap restaurant variety I am so use to eating by now has only set for a few days.

The next surprise is the amount of chili pepper here. I am talking a lot of chili pepper, so much so that it has ceased being a spice and in some dishes become a main ingredient. It is not uncommon for me to get food with a thick layer of chili pepper oil covering and I am telling you it is hot! Ouch.

Chili pepper is popular here and Tabasco sauce is not hard to come by either. When I first came to my house, there were lots of little packets of sauce from Pizza hut. I wasn’t sure what they were but I ripped some open and to my surprise it was hot sauce. Hot sauce from Pizza hut I thought? Hmmm, doesn’t sound right. I was even more surprised when I put it on my eggs and thought for sure it must have been Tabasco sauce as I use to do this in the States sometimes and it tasted the same. Later that week, I went to Pizza hut and was totally redeemed that, yes indeed they do have a bottle of Tabasco on every table. These people love chili.

Another strange surprise was really good bread. What a strange place, not what I expected at all of Asia. Tons of chili on everything but at the same time, really good bread and I seriously mean really good bread. All over the place are these little bitty French bakeries. In fact, there are a couple on my way home from work. They have nice baguettes and really good although a little pricey loaves of bread.

I expected for the bread to be all bad as Asia is not known for good bread but I assure you, it is here. Another thing Asia is not known for is good cheese and that is because they do not have good cheese :-). It is available here and there though and so that is okay and I won’t go without too much.

Another very pleasant surprise I found is orange juice. Okay, supposedly it is not oranges but tangerines or something like that but it is really good and pretty cheap. In fact, it beats hands down any glass of orange juice that I ever had in the states except of course fresh squeezed which I only had a few times and this still might even bet better than that right out of bottle from concentrate. Who would know?

For all my African friends, they have a version of fat cakes here (for all my non-African friends, it is an African donut) at those little French bakeries. They cost about 60 cents a piece which would get you way more fat cakes in Africa but these have some kind of red sweet bean filling which makes them way better than the African ones.

So, how does the food in Asia compare to Africa? Well, African food where I was at was really very bland with very few spices and this stuff is loaded with one spice, chili pepper. I am not kidding, one restaurant I went too gave me soup but it was black pepper soup which means they just boiled black pepper a lot and I mean a lot of black pepper and called it soup. What a joke.

Street food here is really, really cheap. Food at nice restaurants is way too expensive. Food in Africa that is not home cooked is hard to come by outside of a few big cities but usually is affordable. African food is often eaten with hands; this food is mostly eaten with chopsticks. African food tends to have a handful of ingredients that are often repeated fairly often day in and day out. It is true too here with rice, pork, tofu, and of course kim-chi So let me put it like this. Rice=papa (maize boiled into a mush) kim-chi=moroho (any kind of greens but usually Swiss chard or cabbage that has been cooked well), and pork=chicken/whatever just died in the field. So, there you have it, not much different to me. Oh yea chili pepper=Aromat (MSG)/salt/whatever anyone used to make food taste good but times ten.

“Living to eat, eating to live” and telling you about it later


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