Cooking Clean and Dining Dirty (Part One)

Before I moved to Korea I had some concerns about what I would eat.  Most of that apprehension stemmed from my unproductive ill-fated meanderings on the forum boards of

“I can’t get used to the food here.  My stomach is killing me.”

“I would kill for a hamburger right now.  I’m sick of kimbap.”

“The diet is so carb-heavy.  I keep gaining weight.”

I understand that nutrition is a highly controversial field.  I believe that different types of diets can be efficacious for different people.  There is no perfect way to eat regardless of what people may say.

With that being said, my current preferred diet and eating pattern is low-carbohydrate cuisine eaten in two meals per day with a 16-hour intermittent fast.  In other words, I steer clear of sugars and grains on most days (except strategically scheduled cheat days) and choose to skip breakfast every day.  It works for me.

When I  first arrived in Namak, my co-teacher took me shopping on an obligatory first trip to Lotte Mart.  I insisted that I wanted to cook.

“Really?” she asked incredulously.

That’s only half-true.  In reality, I simply prefer to cook because it allows me to exert more control over my nutrition while saving money.  Although my knowledge (and concern) over pesticides and heavy metals in Korean meat and produce are low, I would rather take my chances cooking with fresh ingredients than packaged goods with long, unreadable walls of ingredients plastering the sides of boxes.  Hell, even English ingredient lists contain compounds I cannot begin to comprehend.

I try to cook at least six meals per week.  If that sounds low, it’s because I skip seven meals (breakfast) and eat five to seven meals per week at school (some days I eat lunch and dinner at school because of after-school classes).  I wish I could say that I am a trained chef with a complex list of recipes.  In fact, my culinary skills are quite lazy.  

My preferred dish is fried cubed meat (mostly pork as it is the most affordable) with sesame oil, soy sauce, and topped with 김 (roasted and seasoned seaweed).  Alongside that, I make steamed vegetable medleys.  That normally entails buying whatever produce is marked on sale due to imminent spoilage, chopping it, and cooking it in a beef or seafood stock with garlic cloves.  Sometimes I’ll munch on cucumbers while I wait.

I cook to eat healthy more than I cook to make delicious food.  Alongside this meat and vegetables, I also supplement with some hard-boiled eggs and a variety of nuts and seeds.  My favorites include sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (as they are the most affordable) along with almonds and a dash of cacao nibs.  I’ve also been eating some walnuts mailed from home.  Thank you, Mom and Dad.

While cooking to fit a low-carb lifestyle is far easier than I anticipated, eating at school presents additional obstacles.  While many meals are self-serve for teachers, every employee except me helps themselves to a heaping spoonful of rice.  Every day I hear the same surprise observation.

“Ian.  You didn’t get rice.”

“Nay.  Pab-eul an-mog-oh-yo” (Yes.  I don’t eat rice.)

“Isn’t it too salty?  You need rice.  The kimchi is too salty.”

“I mean…American food is pretty salty already.  Many of my American friends say that Korean foods are very sweet.”

On the other hand, one of my students took a 10-day trip to Georgia during the semester and found American “meat lover’s” pizza to be inedibly salty.

Normally, after this brief exchange, many teachers drop the issue.  One teacher asked me why I didn’t eat starchy foods.  Since I don’t know the Korean words for “low”, “insulin”, “metabolism”, or “blood glucose” I settle for the simple English phrase “I am on a diet” (which is an incorrect statement for reasons beyond the scope of this post).  Sometimes I drop the word “tan-so-hui-mool” (carbohydrate).  This seems to satisfy their curiosity.

For the most part, sticking to my nutrition plan at school isn’t too difficult.  Sure some days have more carbohydrates than others (Occasionally the only non-starchy or sugar-filled food is kimchi).  I also don’t know all of the ingredients used.  However, as long as I forgo the rice and noodles and take a little bit extra vegetables, meat, or fish, I usually feel great.

Honestly, I am thrilled with the nutrition value of my school’s cafeteria.  It blows American school food away.  Seaweed soup, baked fish, grilled pork belly, kimchi, seasoned greens, and bean sprouts all provide a plethora of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Despite not indulging in all options, I rarely walk away from the table hungry.

Photo Corner


I don’t have many pictures of food.  I guess this picture contains the word “cookie” so it’s close enough.  Sexy Cookie is a common Korean lingerie store.


“Please refrain from kicking the bus driver in the head.  Thank you for your cooperation.”


I gratefully received this from Special K on a visit to Yeosu.  We took this on the second night of orientation, grabbing drinks in downtown Gwangju.  It’s always a pleasure to spend some time with Tee on Oak (on the left) and Special K (middle).  Check out that guy standing in the back wearing a high school football polo shirt.  Nerd!


Stereotypical street corner with representatives of Korea’s most well-known brands.


The third little big pig built his house of bricks.  The Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow it down and the children were forever safe.

One thought on “Cooking Clean and Dining Dirty (Part One)

  1. Enjoy your time with family. Your mom has been so excited to see you. No matter how old you get, you’re still her “little boy”. Can’t wait to hear about all your adventures.


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