Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dinner and a Field Trip Courtesy of the School

The last week has been full of things I'd love to share... and so busy I haven't had time to write them down before now! (Also, the laundry has begun to pile up - washing machines being somewhat less common here and laundromats non-existent, we're back to hand-washing. Something we're both experienced at, but you sure have to stay on top of it!)

Tuesday night the English department at Gordon's school went out to dinner, courtesy of the school (I'm just learning how important meals are here, and how large a portion of the budget is devoted to them!), and they were kind enough to invite me as well. There is a name for the kind of restaurant we went to, that perhaps Gordon will supply later as I can't remember. :)

As I'm learning is typical, there were many, many side dishes - at least twenty, in addition to a more-than-typical number of main dishes. The waitress appeared again and again, clearing away the last dish and bringing another so many times I lost track! There were plates of fried vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, potatoes, some unidentifiable...), two courses of cooked fish, several plates of different kinds of raw fish, different kinds of meat dishes, octopus (Gordon was gravely disappointed that it appeared at the table both dead and cooked... I think I can safely say he was the only one disappointed, among the Westerners at least - I didn't know what was being said at the Korean end of the table!)

Among the side dishes, some new ones that I liked: lotus root in some kind of sweet sauce (again, maybe Gordon can fill in some of my blanks here), and kidney beans with... fig! This last one was a surprise to the natives as well, as they had never encountered fruit in a side dish before. We initially thought it was a peeled chestnut, and had quite the surprise upon tasting! Dried squid. Mmmmm. Never thought I'd say that!

Speaking of tasty things: I recently tried making candied ginger for the first time. The ginger was good, but the excess ginger syrup was the real treat - no maple syrup here, but this will do on pancakes (a Saturday morning tradition)!

The group was seated at several low tables pushed together, with all the Westerners at one end and the Koreans at the other. This restaurant had "seats," which are unusual. Typically, one expects to sit on the floor at a restaurant, after leaving your shoes by the door. This was no exception; the "seat" was really just a backrest, er, chair without legs. Our table had four non-Koreans, including one vegetarian and several who were faintly squeamish about some of the dishes (myself included!) so we passed some of the dishes to the other end of the table. For example, one of the items I refrained from: sea cucumber. Upon returning home I googled it, and learned, as I suspected, that it bears absolutely no relation to its terrestrial counterpart, and is not a plant at all! Supposedly very healthful... but no thank you. (I'm honestly not sure if it was served raw or cooked...)

Saturday: elementary school field trip! For Gordon and I though, just a pleasant day in the park: we were not expected to supervise the children (over the course of the day, I wondered if any of the adults had been assigned that role?) but just tagged along and enjoyed ourselves. We first went to a mountain on an island a bit south of here, crossing the bridge that Yeosu features in all of it's promotional pictures. (I hate to say it, but it's really not all that spectacular... compared to, say the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan...) It was a good hike up the mountain - I think I can safely say we all sweat! - but the view at the top was great. (You can see the bridge. And other islands, and the harbor... mussel farms... etc.)

At the top of the mountain is also a 500-year-old fortress, build during a period when Japan was frequently trying to invade Korea. This particular part of the country was apparently a favored invasion point, so there are lots of these fortresses. The principal gave a short lecture about the evolution of the system to get word to the king in Seoul upon invasion - first a relay of messengers on horseback, then smoke signals, which were much faster. He said that the signal could reach Seoul with 40 minutes! (It's a six hour ride on the train... or an hour flight...)

After the hike, we had lunch at a restaurant. I can't imagine this ever happening in the U.S. - taking seventy elementary students to lunch at a restaurant? - but it was a very good meal and the kids were fine, although they mostly just ate the rice and left all kinds of good dishes at their tables! The food was excellent, although both it and the dinner earlier in the week were sad examples of the waste that is rampant in this society. More food is served that would be necessary to feed twice the number of people, and at the end of the meal, all that remains is sent to pig farms (Including any pork dishes, which are quite common. I find this alarming!) I couldn't help but think that if all the left-overs had been taken home, everyone could have eaten for several days...

After we returned home we went out for a bite to eat, and I discovered a new kind of 떡(dak). !!! It's sweeter than the others I've had so far, and very soft, with red bean paste in the center. I could happily eat this every day. Gordon is worried that I'm going to start loving 떡(dak) more than him - μη φοβου (fear not), my love! I also had a delicious soup with rounds of plain 떡(dak) (not sweet) and 만두(dumplings). Mmmm...

1 comment:

Gord said...

The type of restaurant we went to is called HanShik(한식), which means Korean style, but it is much more than that... there is no main dish - it's just as Susan wrote: there is a limitless number of side dishes and rice and soup and the very end. When we asked the Koreans how we would know that the meal was finished, they said "When the tea comes out."

The other thing Susan asked me to comment about was the lotus root. It's basically just boiled in soy sauce and mulyot(물엿)...which is usually corn syrup, but can be made from any grain.