Fake plastic models of alternatively safe ‘Korean fast food‘ meals for purchase.
Warning: video links referred to in this post are not for sensitive viewers or animal lovers.
Last year, I wrote a post, Fear Factor Korea: Foods which may make you cringe. This is belated but is the extension that I accidentally forgot to post…
It’s all too easy for a foreigner like myself, to point a camera and say, Ewww to foreign foods I’m not culturally raised with nor understand. That’s why in this post, I’d like to applaud Korea for is its proud aspiration towards healthy and FRESH foods.
And …to say, Ewww.
How fresh do you want it?
Koreans take pride in their food being fresh. This could mean skinned and still wriggly (i.e. skinned baby eels), wrapped around your chopstick but still crawly (i.e. eating baby octopus) and my all-time favorite– dead but still smiling.
Some might call this seductive advertising.
Although I know traditional foods are born from an older/generational palette, I’ve come from culturally white-washed foods. In the good ole U.S.A, meat doesn’t always resemble it’s origin so closely. Our chicken doesn’t look like it’d “cluck”; and our pork has no resemblance to Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. What’s always been “behind the curtain” for foreigners is full front and center stage in Korea; this is a shock which takes getting used to.
Raw and Live
Seafood? Sashimi? When I lived in New York City, I’d have the occasional craving for a good Japanese sushi restaurant. In Korea I can skip the seafood…
For instance, a popular Korean Fear Factor food for foreigners to dare themselves to try is sannakji or eating baby octopus (video here)– you’ll see the octopus not wanting to go down. Another one is eating live shrimp (video here).
Large seaport cities like Busan, boast popular raw seafood and sushi spots like Jalgachi Fish Market, which deal in serving up “fresh catch”. Walking down the marketplace, there lies a whole new vocabulary of strange seafood you’ve not seen before and a sea farm array of clams, cucumbers, crustaceans, fish, eels, etc… being gutted, splayed open, skinned and sold. Point to your ocean desire from rows of tanks and it’ll be taken to the chef and sliced up for your plate. To test your nerves of steel, I hear Korean chefs sometimes like to present the “dead catch” platter with its head or tail still twitching!
But you have to give it to Korea– at least it’s not deep-fried and you know you’re getting it fresh!
Even if you’re far from the ocean, the populous of seafood restaurants will always be there to satiate your briny cravings. There are many seafood/sushi restaurants (like the below) all over Korea.
Koreans aren’t firm advocates of packaged or frozen meat
Just when you think Korea is advanced, it pulls something old school. For instance, local butchers still exist in Korea… but you can also get your meat at the supermarket too.
But watch where you sneeze! When it comes to supermarkets, you won’t see as much pre-packaging or frozen meats in grocery aisles as you would in the U.S.A. In popular chains like Lotte there are meat sections, where you can select fresh meat and have it packaged for your shopping cart.
Free-range, natural and “happy”.
Some of my students once asked me why I didn’t eat meat. One of my many reasons was about the cruelty which animals are subjected to at farms and slaughter houses. My kids insisted that animals in Korea aren’t treated badly as they are in the U.S.; instead, they are raised on farms, fed well, have space to roam and die happy.
Who could contest that claim to a kid? That’s how the restaurant banners depicts it.
There’s popular belief (or myth) that farm animals in Korea are raised naturally and aren’t injected with tons of growth hormones as they are in the U.S. Yet, there’s been controversy over dogs being treated cruelly for food (video here) and 2010′s hoof-and-mouth panic, where pigs were thrown into an enormous pit and buried alive (do not watch this *shocking* video if you’re an animal lover); it all makes one wonder.
Hand-picked and earthy.
Just when you think you’ve got it safe as a vegetarian, who’ll just eat vegetables, think again! I’ve developed a steady and ongoing gallery of food distrust.
I love my veggies but I’ll tell you a secret–when I came to Korea it took me over half a year to get used to either its… strange variety or occasionally, soiled presentation. What I’m talking about is dirt! Veggies are occasionally sold straight from the soil to your shopping cart . This isn’t only at your local outdoor markets; sometimes, in grocery stores too.
I’m not 100% certain why Koreans choose to leave the dirt on their vegetables (i.e. carrots, potatoes,etc…); but I suspect it has to do with the idea of displaying produce that’s homegrown, natural and unprocessed.
How fresh can you take it? What’s your Fear Factor limit?
- Fear Factor Foods in Laos (grrrltraveler.com)
- Kimbap restaurants: healthy fast foods in Korea (grrrltraveler.com)
- Fear Factor Korea! Foods Which May Make You Cringe (Pt I)