Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Food Etiquette, revisited

Since my first post on food etiquette in Korea, I've made a couple more mistakes that may be of note... I'm just telling myself that these are useful rules to know and that even if I think they're odd, adhering to them is cultural capital and a win-win for my homestay family and me.
from Wikipedia

1. Don't eat 김 without rice.
김, or kim, is dried seaweed. It's a common side dish in Korea, Japan (nori), and Taiwan (紫菜, although my family calls it nori, too). While some people unfamiliar with the taste may raise their eyebrows at the idea of eating seaweed, I've grown up eating this stuff and, if I'm in the mood, simply eat it like chips.

It was my host mother who first told me, however, that one does not eat kim by itself. You must eat it with rice. ("But it's so good! And white rice is so bland and carby!" I think. Oh well.) Because it's easy enough to greatly reduce the ratio of rice to kim, this isn't really a problem at all.

2. Keep your soup bowl on the right.
Some kind of soup (국/soup, 죽/porridge, 찌개/stew or 탕/also soup) is an essential at every Korean meal. It's not Korean if it doesn't include something delicious (and often spicy) in a bowl. Why keep it on the right? I don't know. 그냥.

3. Don't read at the dining table.
In fact, don't do anything at the table while eating except eat. My own mother used to be particular about this: no phones or electronics allowed at dinner. The same holds true for my host mother, who daily tells my host brother to put away his cell phone and stop playing the new fad game app of the week during meals. But when I was told to put my book (I mean Kindle, but whatever) away, I was actually the only one at the table, eating a late breakfast by myself. That left me kind of awkwardly bored for the remainder of my meal.

The way I make sense of this is by observing how absurdly quickly most Koreans around me tend to eat. Mealtimes can be long because there's a lot of food available (four-course meals are standard at most restaurants I've been to), but the food itself is scarfed down in no time at all. That said, something as time-consuming as reading a book not only leaves food uneaten, it also allows it to grow cold before it is consumed, and if that's not an insult to the person who prepared it for you, then I don't know what is.

(Well, except I do know many things that could be considered worse faux pas at the Korean dining table, only I haven't committed them and do not intend to, ever. If I accidentally make more gaffes, I'll be sure to document them!)

P.S. There's been wintry precipitation all over the peninsula today. As I sat in my office looking at a calm gray sky, I noticed my Fulbright peers' Facebook status updates announcing snow, freezing rain, and even some thunder and lightning. Way down south in Changwon, we only got rain for most of the evening -- and I came home pretty drenched. But my host mother just went outside and announced that it snowed! For all of like five minutes. And it has all melted now. My hopes are that it'll fall and stick at least once before I leave for winter break, but if it doesn't, I'm cool with that, too.

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