Soup For Every Meal!

Jan 11, 2011 by    Posted under: Travel

Meals here at the camp are, by American standards, strange. Strange in flavor, strange in pairings, strange in what is considered breakfast food.

Before I say more, I would like to make it clear that I am in no way complaining. This whole experience is an adventure, including the food, and I am savoring every single bite of it.

But, meals are a smorgasbord of strange combinations of dishes and flavors and half of the time I have no idea what I’m actually eating.

There are three foods that are served with every meal – rice, kimchi and soup. I never though of eating soup (or drinking it, as they do here) for breakfast and I’m not sure why. Soup happens to be one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s filling, it can be served hot or cold and you can put just about anything in it. It’s the perfect dish.

Most of the soup served here is a broth, miso or something that tastes like miso, and some cabbage, seaweed or bean sprouts, and it’s usually pretty good. Sometimes a creamed soup is served and, if it’s not Campbell’s, it’s the Korean equivalent to the viscusy, sodium filled, canned taste of it.

Most of the time white rice is served but every so often a fried rice concoction will turn up. It will almost always have cubed carrots and peas (most likely frozen), cubed chunks of processed ham and flavoring which, to me, tastes like the base flavor to most Korean foods. It’s a very distinct flavor. I am by no means an expert on rice, but I can taste the difference between poor quality rice and the good stuff. This white rice that is served here is definitely not the good stuff.

I love spicy food and I love fermented food but I’ve never been able to develop a taste for kimchi. I have been forcing myself to eat it two out of the three meals to see if I can teach my palate to find something in it that I could like. My theory is that that food is like wine – there are wines you like on the first sip, and others you have to give your palate time to sort out the complex flavors. So, I am attempting to train my taste buds to understand kimchi.

As for the rest of the dishes, a small portion of several different ones are served at each meal. They’re is usually a protein – tofu, pork and chicken are served regularly – and either a kind of salad or another dish with protein in it. The salad is very different from what we think of as salad in the US. It’s often shredded cabbage with a very sweet dressing, bean sprouts or a second kind of kimchi. The protein dishes are often strange combinations of foods. We’ve had dishes like: hot dog stir-fry in a sauce that tastes similar to teriyaki and chicken and bean sprouts in a kimchi-like sauce. One day, there was a corn dog as the protein.

My favorite dish in Korea is bibimbap and it was served once for lunch, which was really nice. It’s a bowl of rice, some raw vegetables, nori and an egg. I also adore dukbogi, a chewy, mochi-like, rice cake. It is served by itself in hot sauce or mixed in with chicken or vegetables. Fortunately for me, dukbogi is served at least every other day in one form or another. (Dukbogi is very popular here and there are dukbogi restaurants where you can get it served just about any way imaginable. Last night my class used the money they won from the singing contest and we had boneless chicken wings and fried, breaded dukbogi with cheese inside of it. A Korean version of cheese sticks.)

The three photos in this post (not including the one of kimchi soup at the top) are of one day’s meals. Can you guess which one was served for breakfast, which one for lunch and which one for dinner? Hover over the photos to see the answers.

UPDATE: So, my kimchi experiment is working! I went out to find some dinner the other night (I didn’t have to eat with the kids in the cafeteria due to them being on a field trip). It was a really cold night (big surprise). So, I just walked into a restaurant near the college and pointed at a picture of a dish on the wall that looked spicy and hot (temperature wise) and sure to warm me up. Turns out it was kimchi soup.

I ended up taking it back to my dorm, since I still had lesson plans to do. I didn’t think about how it would stink up my little room and there was no way I was going to open the window with the Siberian winds ready to freeze me in the one place I can actually stay warm. It turns out the soup was excellent, amazing, in fact (and only $3.50). I never thought I’d say this but I love kimchi soup, stink and all!

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2 Comments + Add Comment

  • Ya know, JT makes me eat my kimchi in another room. He HATES the smell of it, and I can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. It’s pretty funny. He can smell it from 15 feet away!

  • Poor JT. As good as kimchi is, it is some serious stink! I think I’m going to have to air myself out before going home. It may be seeping out of my pores by then.

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