There are Eyes in my Kimchi: Why I was afraid of Korean Food

I’ve been wanting to share with you some of the, well, interesting food experiences I’ve had in this country for quite some time. The problem is, there’s a new experience just about every day, and the moment I sit down to tell you about yesterday’s encounter, another one is on my plate. So we’ll start at square one. In this post, let me familiarize you with the first bite of Korean food I had in this country; it is also the reality I am faced with five days a week at five minutes to noon: The School Lunch.


I blame the School Lunch for completely destroying my view of Korean Food from Day One. Yes, the School Lunch can take full responsibility for the fact that, for the first 3 months of living in Korea, I opted to buy my own groceries and, with a history of absolutely zero successful cooking experience and only my toaster oven and hot plate at my disposal, I “cooked” (read: defrosted) all my own meals, spent way more money than necessary on mystery ingredients (그게 뭔데?), and was constantly using the wrong stuff in recipes (read: sweet fermented fish juice instead of vinegar) or burning the crap out of whatever good stuff I’d managed to find. If I ate out at all, I ate at foreign restaurants (Greek, Nepalese, Bulgarian, Indian) and stayed the hell away from Korean Food for fear I’d find a bulgy-eyed fish in my kimchi or an octopus hiding in my spaghetti noodles (true stories from the Lunch Box).


Yes, the School Lunch, in its hideous little black and red box, accompanied by a stone-cold bowl of Slop parading as Soup, always slimy and smelling of rotting fish in midsummer heat, is to be condemned for turning someone who would eat Anything into someone who wanted None Of It, not even if it was Outside The Box, Over There, Under That, or Disguised As A Hamburger. I didn’t want it Here, I didn’t want it There, I didn’t want it Anywhere. I would not eat green eggs and ham, I would not eat them, Sam I Am!

Until the day I did. The School Lunch was the Bane of my Existence until I realized it kind of actually tasted better than my Home-Cooked Atrocities, and I would rather not starve to death, thank you very much. The key to eating the School Lunch is plugging your nose and closing your eyes. If you can’t smell it and you can’t see it, you can make yourself eat just about anything. And if you have an imagination, you can almost imagine the taste away too. Until your kids ask you, mid-bite, “oh, Miss Kristina, you like octopus?”

Maybe you want to plug your ears as well.


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