Tag Archives: Korean food

You Have to Follow the Rules

You have to follow the rules, even when those rules are unwritten social rules, and even when they inconvenience everyone involved. This is a true story that happened to me one Friday last fall.

I go to four schools over the course of a week, so there are several schools I only taught at once a week. One week, my second Wednesday school principal (who was a sweet, grandmotherly type of woman) invited me to a barbecue the school was having that Friday. My Friday school was far away, but I told her I would try to make it, since it was possible to get there if I rode my scooter.

She told me to get there by 3pm and since my classes at the other school finished at 2:30, that was perfect. I rode my scooter along back roads in the mountains and got to the school just before three.

They were packing everything up.

Here was my first dilemma. I could have just taken off, but I didn’t want the principal to think I hadn’t come. That might make her feel bad. So I went through the crowds and found her to say hello.

I was planning to just say hi and leave but of course, as a good host who had invited me there, she couldn’t let that happen. So she told some of the women to get out a grill and cook up some meat for me (samgyeopsal, for those who know Korean food). I tried to refuse, but like all grandmotherly-type women, she didn’t know the meaning of the word “no”. I could have just left, but that would have been rude.

samgyeopsal

So there I was, sitting at a table while a woman cooked meat for just me, while most other people were sitting around talking or cleaning up. The principal, because she was hospitable, sat next to me to keep me company. She didn’t eat anything, since they had all eaten before. However, she did make up food for other people.

In Korea, when you eat barbecued meat, you take a lettuce leaf, then put a piece of meat on it, with whatever other vegetables or sauces you want, then wrap it up like a little package and eat it in one bite. The principal kept making these up for other people, who had to take them even though they were full, since you can’t say no to the principal.

Like this

Like this

After a while, most everyone else wandered off to deal with other stuff and a few women sat talking, while I kept eating. They had made a ton of meat and while it was delicious, I was getting full and felt uncomfortable sitting by myself. I kept asking others to come eat with me, but they all said they were full. I apologized to the women cooking, since they were only waiting there for me to finish. Of course, they said it was fine, since it was have been rude to say anything else. I hope it really was fine.

They had made a lot of meat and I felt obligated to eat it all or at least make a big dent in it. I didn’t eat it all and finally left, very full.

I don’t regret going, since it really was delicious meat, but thinking back it is amazing to see how the iron rails of social etiquette predestined this scenario. It could not have played out any other way without offending someone or at least breaking unwritten rules. Every culture has its own social etiquette rules, some more strict than others, but they’re there so that everything runs smoothly. Whether you like it or not, you have to follow the rules.

…Or do you? What do you think? Are there some social etiquette rules you break?

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How to Eat a Triangle Kimbap

On Sunday, when I wrote my Once Upon a Hike in Korea post, I mentioned bringing a triangle kimbap with me for food and I promised to explain what that was today.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know what kimpab is, it is a common Korean food made of rice and seaweed wrapped around various vegetables and meat, rolled up and cut into slices.

Kimbap

Kimbap

It is very common as a picnic or snack food and it is what moms often make for their kids when they’re going on a field trip.

Kimbap is usually made fresh, either at home or at a restaurant where they make it right there for you. However, there is another kind called triangle kimbap that is sold in convenience stores. It looks like this:

triangle kimbap 1

These come in many different types (usually various kinds of meat) but this one is my favorite: tuna mayonnaise. These tend to be less healthy than the regular variety and don’t have vegetables in them. As you can see, this cost 800 won, which is about 70 cents US, so they’re pretty cheap.

Another thing about these is that the shelf-life is insanely short, as it should be with anything like this. As you can see, the sell-by date is not just in days, but also in hours. This one was made at 9am on June 10 and was good until 22pm of June 11, or about an hour after I bought it.

Triangle kimbap 2

The thing about these is that the insides are wet and they’re surrounded by dry seaweed, so how do you keep the seaweed dry and crisp until you want to eat it? The answer is that the seaweed is wrapped separately in plastic from the inside but still wrapped around the rice. So, to open it without totally disassembling takes a special design. This is how you do it.

Step 1: Pull the middle tab, cutting the outer plastic totally in two.

Triangle kimbap 3

Step 2: Pull the two sides apart. You have to do this gently, since the seaweed is folded under and it’s fragile.

Triangle kimbap 4

The wrapping is all gone now. Now you can open up the seaweed and see what the inside is like. It’s basically a triangle of rice with an indentation where they put whatever kind of meat is in it.

Triangle kimbap 5

This is a great snack and easy to eat with your hands. And now, if you ever come across one, you’ll know how to eat it.

Triangle kimbap 6

I had never seen anything like this until I came to Korea, but I’m curious: is there anything like this in any other countries that you know of? I’m always interested in learning about other cultures.


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