Preface: Friday at lunch I had a conversation with myself about how indulgences from a former life prepared me well for eating in Korea. By that I mean bizarro combinations food don’t bother me that much and I even developed a taste for what most would consider strange contrasts. And while still I am horrified by things like squid-paste-filled pancakes or candied seaweed, today’s bimbimbap sauce, which has the flavor profile of meaty spaghetti sauce and gets mixed together with dried seaweed, shredded cucumber, and various ocean critters, didn’t really bother me even though I felt like it should.
Friday afternoon I hosted a mini-celebration to end the Food Unit I’d completed with my English Club. I endeavored to make them something Americany and special, but in these circumstances I’m severely limited. There’s some American foodstuffs here, but if it’s available that means people could’ve had it before, disqualifying it as super special. Also, the fancier, less-common American items (read: cheese) are expensive and I’ve yet to be compensated for this noise. I didn’t trust that the kids would appreciate it enough for me to be satisfied paying out of pocket. And on top of all that I don’t have an oven and the school doesn’t have a microwave. So the food party was an exercise in creative simplicity.
My weird “American” menu turned out like this:
- peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches
- tuna fish salad on toast
- devilled eggs
Now, I know what you are thinking, probably the same exact thing I was thinking the whole time:
9 year old + egg + tuna fish = no way in hell
But remember, folks, I live on the other side of the world where everything is upside down and the prevalence of fish and fish flavor is incomparable to anything in America. Fish of all varieties seems to be a key ingredient in most dishes and there’s nothing wrong with whipping out some smelly-ass dried squid or fish guts on the enclosed bus ride to Seoul. That’s how much Koreans love fish.
To my surprise the kids enjoyed all of the food, including the eggs. I had promised I wouldn’t be offended if they didn’t want to finish them because I was impressed they were willing to try them at all. Still only one or two rejected something.
At the end I invited some of my coteachers in to finish up what was left. They predictably dove right into the tuna fish salad. I pointed at the jars of peanut butter and jelly while they munched on their tuna toast and asked, “Have you ever had this?”
Two of them shook their heads “no” in regard to the peanut butter. I encouraged them to try it and turned to grab another piece of bread. When I turned back, there they were spreading peanut butter and jelly on their tuna fish sandwiches.
I didn’t stop them because I couldn’t muster control of my face to politely suggest that this was not what I had meant. If I had tried to speak it would’ve come out all high pitched and crazy-scary-like. They smiled and enjoyed their peanut butter tuna fish jelly abominations as I watched with my eyebrows in my hair and remembered how a few hours earlier I’d been admiring myself for having such a uniquely liberal palate.
Touché, Korea. Touché.