Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Junk Food

I've expanded my Korean food palate a bit, though more into the junk food realm. In addition to dolsot bibimbap, I've developed a fondness for tteokbokki. It's really popular from street vendors, one of which is right below Sherlock Academy. It's just rice cakes in some kind of spicy sauce:

For 500 won (35 cents USD!!), I can get a small but generously-filled cup of this stuff. It's pretty filling, and a popular pick-me-up among all the teachers.

A (seemingly) popular brand of junk food here is "Market O," they make things like chips, brownies, crackers, and so on. I bought a box of their brownies because I was jonesing some chocolate goodness and they looked like they might be good. Alas, appearances can be deceiving—they were easily the stalest, crumbliest, least satisfying brownies I've ever eaten. Good to know that America is still king of Foods Totally Devoid of Nutritional Content That Do Nothing But Make You Fat. And it wasn't only my brownie that was individually wrapped—I bought a box of cookies last week and each one of them was individually wrapped. I think that's why fat Koreans are a rarity, it's too much of a pain in the ass to unwrap every single cookie you want to shove in your mouth. The head foreign teacher, Mark (who has since returned to New Zealand) once said that Koreans are the king of packaging. He's pretty spot-on with that.

Another one is 오징아, the best Romanization of which I can put together is "oh-ching-ah." The best way I can describe it is "squid (jellyfish?) jerky." I'm still not entirely sure what it is, except that it's some kind of sea creature. With tentacles. And suckers. One of my students offered me some today, and I would be remiss in not accepting it. This is the very first level of English at Swaton, and their English isn't the best, so it might be squid, or octopus, or one of them said "jellyfish." I'm not sure if 오징아 is even the name of the dish, or just of the animal, because when I asked them to write it on the board they wrote two or three things, whose meaning was unclear. 오징아 was the first answer and so I'm sticking with that.

This was in my last class today, probably the favorite class I have on this rotation. However, they are also quite punchy and had recently descended into such madness that I had to have Michael (head Korean teacher) come in and lecture them. The rest of the class they were reserved and not as energetic as usual, apparently embarrassed or chagrined by Michael's lecture, so the 오징아 might very well have been a peace offering. Or just a random gesture of goodwill, or a "let's see if the foreign teacher will eat it!" experiment. So, after much trepidation, with a small crowd of 11-year-olds cheering me on and no water to act as a chaser,I took a big bite.

It tasted okay, just really strongly of fish and seafood. The suckers are pretty tender, but the tentacles are just impossibly tough, so I had to chew it longer than I would have wanted to otherwise.

Speaking of things with tentacles and suckers, a blog post about Korean food wouldn't be complete with mentioning 산낙지 (sannakji): live octopus. This dish, or something similar, was featured in the Korean mega-hit Oldboy. Choi Min-Sik, who played the lead character Oh Dae-Su, insisted on something like four takes of the scene in question. Four takes of eating live octopus:

I don't think you'd find anyone in Hollywood who would do that.


  1. and to think, you won't eat my meatloaf :)

    i'd still prefer chocolate mousse, altho the pic of the rice cake stuff looks strangely like french fries

  2. I thought they were cheese fries or something at first, actually. It's a bit weird to think of rice as looking like that.