I will never forget the first time I went to the supermarket in Korea. I walked around aimlessly because I didn’t recognise half the foods. There I was, all the way from Tipperary standing in a supermarket in Paju looking like I walked in from another dimension! I think I came back out after an hour with a bunch of bananas, some apples and a carton of milk. In 3 years, things have changed so I decided to write a blog on the things I didn’t recognise when I first arrived in Korea.
For anyone who reads this from outside Korea and actually knows what they all are, well done. Remember I came from Ireland where these types of food don’t exist (or do but not in my part of Tipperary).
The reason this is part 1 is because I looked like a seriously random individual walking around the supermarket taking pictures of items and not actually buying them! When I feel it safe to return, I’ll take more pictures.
Lets start with 유부. You can read the English on the packet, Fried Soybean Curd. Its delicious with thick noodles, 우동, and you find it a lot on soups and the like. At the time I didn’t know that so I spent quite a while standing there thinking of creative ways to eat such a random food. Thank goodness these packets have pictures otherwise I might still be there!
Moving swiftly forward to my favourite aisle;
About 80% of this aisle is dedicated to tuna or 참치 in Korean. I love this aisle because how many different variations of tuna can there be? Quite a lot is the answer. In fairness there are other things on the shelf, but still a lot of tuna. The rest is Spam, and other tinned fish and meat. Here’s a picture of Spam which is so great, it deserves a picture of its own
Hhhhmmmmm…….disgusting. Or delicious depending on you. But what is Spam?? Lots of Americans are already familiar with Spam but until September 2009 I had never heard of it. For those who are currently sailing the same boat I was, Spam is “chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative” For Lunar New Year, Spam came in amazing beautifully decorated boxes. Nothing says “I love you” like a great big box of Spam. In case you still don’t understand how brilliant Spam is, watch this youtube video; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE
These white things are 떡 and you can tell my reading skills are amazingly brilliant. They come in different shapes but they’re the same thing. These are actually deceiving delicious and can be eaten lots of different ways. They are usually used to make 떡볶이 which looks like;
Ddeokbokki comes in a variety of spiciness and of course if we get it at school it’s the “not at all spicy” version. Ddeokbokki is great street food and nothing warms you up on a night out in winter like Ddeokboki!
The only milk I drank in Ireland came from a cow and with a complete stretch of the imagination, a goat. So imagine my surprise when I walk in to the supermarket and find an entire shelf dedicated to Soybean milk! It’s super popular here and I constantly have people offering me cartons of it. It’s got a “special” taste and after a while it’s not that bad. And probably really healthy.
Whenever I go back to Ireland, I like to eat food prepared by Mammy Browne. When I saw these dressings, I heard my mother’s voice going; “You’d want to be an awful eejit to put Kiwi dressing on your lettuce” So imagine the astonishment as I stood looking at the Kiwi, strawberry, peach and other randomly flavoured dressings. I’ve actually tasted them since and they’re not so bad( a little delicious if I’m being honest) if you don’t think about how weird it is. For 2,380won you can’t go too far wrong……..
No school lunch is complete without a few Quail eggs. Quail eggs are three or four times more nutritious that regular chicken eggs. We eat them all the time here. Personally, I don’t see much of a difference in taste but that’s just me.
At this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I didn’t recognise the foods when the labels are in English. I took these at a large supermarket which I didn’t know existed until about 6 months into my contract. The one I usually go to is a totally Korean supermarket with none of these fancy English labels.
Red Pepper Paste, a staple in the Korean diet. This is used as a base in a lot of foods here. The most common uses are in Ddeokbokki and bibimbap. I know that now but at the time I was thinking why anyone would need such a disgusting looking food in such a large quantity.
One last item, Mangosteens. If it wasn’t apples or oranges, I hadn’t heard of them before I came to Korea. And I still hadn’t heard of mangosteens until I went to Thailand in December 2011 (Don’t judge me!). These are the most delicious fruit I’ve ever discovered. They taste better bought from a street vendor in Thailand but when all goes to all the ones in the supermarket here will do.
That’s about it for part 1. Tune in soon for an Irish girl in a Korean supermarket, part 2!