This is how we eat in Korea

By admin
10 October 2013

Joe Makka, our blogger in South Korea, shares why he will miss the food the most when he returns to South Africa one day.

When anyone asks what I’ll miss most when I leave Korea one day, I always say the food. Mom’s cooking stays the best, of course, but Korean food has stolen my heart. Among the most common ingredients used in everyday Korean food is sesame seed oil, chilli pepper paste, soyabean pasta and ginger and garlic, which makes the food appetising and spicy.

Rice is the staple food of Korea, most Koreans eat it with every meal. I think Koreans’ diet is much healthier because their meals incorporate a lot of vegetables and fruit and they seldom have dessert. No one uses plates. Everything is dished into small bowls and you eat directly from the bowl. The ingredients are also cut up smaller so you can easily pick it up with your chopsticks.

A typical Korean table setting with lots of small bowls that you eat out of.

No traditional Korean meal is complete without kimchi – a spicy, fermented cabbage. Whether you’re eating in a restaurant, at home, or sitting down to the lunches we get at school – kimchi is always part of the meal.

It’s part of my routine in class to ask my students what they had for breakfast, and the answer is often kimchi and rice. Because they eat so much kimchi most families in late November, early December prepare enough of it to last them a year.

Joe and a Canadian friend Cindy make kimchi with a Korean family.

My favourite Korean dish is what Americans call “Korean barbecue”. You grill small portions of meat at the table in the restaurant and eat it in salad-leaf wraps. My favourite meat to barbeque is called samgyupsal in Korean, it’s pork and looks and tastes like bacon.

Having samgyupsal for Friday night dinner.

The table where you sit down to grill your meat comes complete with a gas burner fitted in the middle of the table. The long pipe from the ceiling is actually an extractor fan which prevents the smoke becoming a problem in the restaurant. What you get is the cut of meat of your choice, plus garlic, jalapeños, mushrooms, kimchi, rice, a variety of sidedishes, dipping sauces and lettuce.

The first step is to grill the meat and dice it. To make sure the meat doesn’t dry out you turn it over constantly. The garlic and mushrooms are cooked at the same time.

When the meat is done it’s time to put together your wrap. You do it by putting rice on the lettuce leaf with some of the cooked mushrooms and garlic. Then you dip the whole lot in the sauce and pop it in your mouth.

This dish is great fun precisely because you prepare it yourself. I eat it almost every Friday evening, although I’m trying (and the stress is on trying) not to eat too much bacon.

Till next time,


Joe Makka is from Hopefield in the Western Cape and has taught English in Seoul in South Korea for the past five years.

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