Korean food is very good. This is not something I feel up for debate, and living in Korea, the place where Korean food is from, I am regularly ensconced in the highest quality, most authentic versions of it I can possibly eat. Koreans do Korean food very, very well, and they all generally enjoy it a great deal. The problem, of course, is all of the other foods: Chinese and Mexican and Indian and Turkish and Thai and Canadian… all of these foods are reprocessed and filtered through local Korean tastes, and Koreanized in just a certain way. Those times when I tire, when I want something outside of the Korean wheelhouse of cuisine, I am bereft. When I want the food of home, it’s just not here.
There are times when being heavily, heavily visible in a foreign country can suck. You’re a target for, well, everything. Stares and invective and anger and nationalistic tides of xenophobic distaste. At the same time, because you’re so visible, you’re also an easy target for pleasantness and the great weirdities of life. Being some of the only foreigners to attend the local Sorae Port Festival, we were stopped at different times in the day to: be interviewed for television and/or promotional subway materials, join a large group of middle-aged Koreans to share in their soju and fresh fish, do some handicrafts typically meant only for kids, receive free calligraphy scrolls, and be adopted by a man who claimed to be a local fishboss (I have decided this is a word). We were invited to do these things because we were weird lookin’ and the people around us felt in a sharing mood, and we stick out as being share-with-able. Being impossible to miss has its perks. Enjoy the glory of the Sorae Festival, in photoglut form.
How to summarize 2 and a half weeks home? The place that I grew up, where everyone I ever knew and loved lives? Where I did stuff, and saw people, and slept in a comfortable bed and had constant air-conditioning, and regular, unrestricted access to a pool? I could allow you to swim in the sea of my neurotics, on the mixed feelings I got about returning to Korea when everything at home just seemed so perfect (except for that whole, you know, joblessness thing). I could talk about how weird and how good it feels to be back in the adopted home. But food is evocative, and it provides me a nice narrative structure when I couldn’t hash another out, so here we go: Toronto in 11 meals.
Let’s talk about the things that I love lately and why I do that thing where I love them.
오징어 순대 (Ojingo sundae)
I am not a big seafood fan. We’ve talked about this before, internet. If it has pincers or a shell that is also its house or horrible beady little eyes floating away from its body on fibrous little shiver tendrils, I don’t want to ingest it. If it lives in the darkest, scariest parts of the ocean where things are basically two steps away from being Cthulhu, I don’t want it on my plate. Why do people do this to themselves? We have other food now, don’t they know? You don’t have to scrape the things off the bottom of your boat and suck sustenance from their horrible chitinous razorshells.
However. Occasionally I will stumble on something vaguely seafoody that surmounts my defenses. That proves tasty despite my long entrenched biases against the entire food genre. I will reluctantly savour this food, as though the sea itself conspired against me.
Never before has anything been so victorious against my tastebuds as ojingo sundae.
An entire post about your Korean school lunch? One month in Korea, and you are out of ideas, you, the non-existent interlocutor, remark. However! Lunch at my Korean elementary school is, hilariously, a time when I expend nearly as much effort as I do lesson-planning and teaching. It is one of the few places I interact with a large group of Korean adults. It is one of the few times I am required to use Korean utensils and eat Korean food right beside actual Koreans. There are arcane, arbitrary, and sometimes hilarious practices which I must mimic and master if I want to gain greater acceptance. I am watched much of the time. And thus: a post about lunch.
The Seoul Fireworks Festival is an international competition, this year featuring China, Canada, Japan, and Korea. My co-teacher directed me to the event, and informed me that we should go early. Being entirely naïve, I assumed she meant, say, an hour to an hour-and-a-half ahead of time, giving us an ample window to settle down in Hangang Park, somewhere near the river. As we discovered, she probably meant something like, “Camp out there the night before, and also the night of, otherwise you will experience dehumanizing, untold horrors.”