When I am not at home or the school cafeteria, I must eat out. In terms of health-conscious consumption, this can be a crapshoot. However, I can manage it through diligence. On the other hand, sometimes eating garbage is simply part of the plan.
My favorite restaurants are sam-gyup-sal (pork belly) barbecue joints. In these palaces of dinnertime pleasure, one grills their own meat (normally pork or beef) on a charcoal or gas-fired grill in the middle of the table. I find few sounds more satisfying than that of animal flesh searing over a hot flame. The smell also proves irresistible. Some restaurants even have the all-you-can-eat advantage (of which I often take advantage).
Patrons normally cut their own meat with scissors and consume it in lettuce wraps with garlic, peppers, kimchi, bean sprouts, onions, or whatever ban-chan (side dishes) is available. Korean bean (sam-jang) or red pepper (go-choo-jang) paste seasons the mouth-watering ensemble.
Sam-gyup-sal is very middle-of-the-road in terms of my dieting goals. I could stand to eat meat with more protein, but saturated fat is not the devil some make it out to be. I chalk it up to a nutritional stalemate.
Another aspect of Korean cuisine I appreciate is raw fish. To date, I have only eaten at these restaurants with my school (because they are pricier and my friend group is split on their opinion of seafood (I am a strong affirmative)). At these restaurants, platters of all varieties of raw and cooked seafood appear before us. We indulge in familiar fish such as tuna, salmon, and shrimp along with the less common abalone and octopus.
I am especially fond of octopus despite the inevitable stomachaches. I can now relate to the struggles of the lactose intolerant. One especially popular dish in the Mokpo area consists of chopped raw beef and raw octopus in a mixed marinade. Ma-shee-soy-yo (It is delicious.) On top of the amazing flavor, swimming in a sea of omega-3’s always leaves me feeling good the following day.
At times, my best option when eating out is to skip the food. I can’t tell if I annoy my misfit friends whenever I eat dinner at home before meeting them for a meal. I then longingly stare at the fried chicken placed before us and elect to sip soju instead. Only God and IU can judge me now.
More recently, I have started experimenting with scheduled “cheat days” for mostly psychological reasons. Chronic deprivation can lead to a chronically toxic relationship with food (not to mention adherence failure and excessive binges). I normally do these on Saturdays (for social reasons) and indulge in all kinds of foods that I normally pass by with a longing glance and a small puddle of drool.
I especially appreciate convenience stores’ 2+1 offers on candy bars and have also developed a loving relationship with Choco Pies (aliases include moon pies and Eskimo pies). Some days Ministops, CU’s, GS25’s, and 7-Elevens are the bane of my existence.
In addition, I have stuffed many Korean ice cream waffles, hot dogs (which Americans would likely call “corn dogs”), chicken skewers, and Reese’s peanut bars into my poor unsuspecting stomach.
One must be careful of hot dogs, however. Some Korean vendors commit the unforgivable sin of dipping the freshly fried batter in sugar. I am also unable to resist matcha waffle ice cream sandwiches. Often sold in convenience stores, it is exactly how it sounds (but even tastier than one’s imagination).
Then there is kimbap. Kimbap is a more healthy cheat food – meat and vegetables wrapped in rice and a sheet of seaweed (much like sushi without the raw fish). Some are served in rolls while others are wrapped up in triangles resembling oversized tabletop footballs.
I’ll admit that my diet is not always the healthiest (though I try). This February has been especially taxing on my digestive tract. However, in my experience, Korea offers surprising dietary flexibility. One can eat healthy regardless of how one classifies healthy eating.
To be fair, my unhealthy food choices have all been choices. Moreover, the town of Namak and the city of Mokpo affords me a wide selection of fare. Should I choose to ratchet down to a more restrictive eating plan temporarily, I am in a great situation to do so. In the meantime, I have thoroughly enjoyed the holidays with a ho-dduck in one hand and a Choco Pie in the other.
I took a picture of my bike in a Gwangju subway station just for Ms. Patty Gilette. This is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without me, my bike is nothing. Without my bike, I can always walk.
I took a long and trying bike trek over vacation. Post coming soon.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and instead of heeding the advice of Mr. Frost I just followed my friends to the left.
Mountains blanket the country. I feel so small.
I would say Potato’s selfie game far surpasses mine. She used a large camera. I left my finger on the lens. #PhotoFail.
The silty delta blanketed with tall grasses and fertile gray mud comprises a surprisingly pleasant ecological park.
This was a strange day in Gangjin. More on that eventually.