Sometimes I get Korea-sick. It’s not like being homesick, since Korea was never really “home” to me, but I did live there for nearly three years and it was the first foreign country I had ever visited. It holds a special place in my heart.
Patrick doesn’t get Korea-sick like I do. He was well traveled by the time he arrived, having finished backpacking the old silk route, from Istanbul to Beijing, and most of Nepal and India. He’d seen a thing or two at that stage, including a holy man in India who told him he’d meet his future wife in the coming year, would have four children (!) and would live to a ripe old age. True to form, we met the following year. We’ll see how many kids I’m willing to pop out after this one.
Korea, for me, was something entirely new and exciting. I had to learn a completely different way of life, I spent a huge chunk of my time teaching (something, after having my mom teach me my whole life, I had vowed never to do) and I had to learn new mannerisms. It was important for me to learn as much as possible about the culture – you see a lot of foreigners in Korea who don’t bother, and it’s painful to watch.
That was part of the excitement of living in a new place. It was also my first experience living in a city – I had to learn how to use a cell phone and public transit for the first time – and my first real experience with foreign food.
In Nova Scotia, at least, outside of Halifax, we don’t have a lot of ethnic food. It’s getting better now, but when I was growing up the most exotic meal you could get were the spicy noodles at Wong’s, the Chinese food restaurant in my hometown (I still often crave those spicy noodles; they’re so, so good). Sesame oil was a flavour I had to get used to, and it took about six months for me to like kimchi, the staple of any Korean’s diet.
After I started eating kimchi, though, a whole world of Korean flavours opened up to me. Kimchi Jiggae, a hot stew made of (you guessed it) kimchi with soft tofu, green onion and pork or tuna, Pa and Kimchi Jeon, which are Korean-style pancakes, often made tastier with the addition of “hae-mul”, or seafood. Bulgogi, dakgalbi, jjimdak, bibimbap and mandhu all became much-loved meals.
I started craving rice – just plain, Korean-style rice – regularly, as it had become a real comfort food for me. During my first months of pregnancy, I couldn’t eat anything – but Patrick could always convince me to down a bowl of Kimchi Jiggae with rice no matter how sick I felt.
A massive meal of ssamgyupsal (BBQ-ed pork belly) and beer or soju has been our date night of choice for years now. Every major occasion calls for it – weddings, birthdays, going-away parties. So yes, I get Korea-sick quite a lot, especially now that I live in a place with no Korean restaurant (Dear Koreans: Please move to Waterford and open a restaurant. PLEASE.).
For more Korean stories, you can check out my very first blog, ever: Getting My Suwon (don’t judge; I had no idea what I was doing!).
Since I’m having one of those days, I invite you to commiserate. Photos of some of my favourite Korean meals: