Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Can't Escape the Crepe
Besides eating some delicious crepes on the street in Montmartre, Paris in 2001, I hadn't had much crepe experience until last year. I was working at the cafe on Orcas, and in the summer we started doing sweet and savory crepes, so I became crepe-maker extraordinaire. I liked it, but the snobby barista in me would have rather been making coffee. Fast forward to 2010, in Asia, with children, and somehow... I'm still making crepes! I have been assigned the cooking class, and actually they are the perfect food for the kids- similar but different from food they know, inexpensive, hard to mess up, and a real cooking element that quesadillas or sandwiches would lack. It's pretty satisfying too, when you flip the first one and all the students gasp in delight. We wait until all the teams have made theirs before any one starts eating. Then even when they can eat, many students will first run over to the teachers to feed us a piece before eating it themselves. In general here it is more customary for younger people to wait until the oldest starts eating. Sometimes it's after lunch and I'm not hungry, or I'd prefer to avoid the wheat and sugar, but it is so thoughtful of them that I can't say no.
While we're talking about food, I have to say that Korean food suits me very nicely. I feel really healthy eating it. There is a company that the staff can order lunch from, and they bring it in little tupperwares for every one. It's only 3000 won, less than $3, and you get rice, soup, and about 5 little side dishes. These always include kimchi, plus possibly marinated bean sprouts, sauteed greens, dried fish, little sausages, hard-boiled egg, fish cakes, fried octopus, smoked fish, shrimp, battered ham, thin cooked beef, seaweed, or sweet bean sticky rice cake. Probably the most unusual thing I've seen was at lunch yesterday: tempura-battered mug wort.
One of my coworkers (Canadian) who has lived in South Korea for about 7 years, was kind enough to take me grocery shopping the other day. I can grocery shop by myself, but there are a few things I can't recognize yet. A lot of labels are in both Korean and English, but not all of them. As far as cheese, you can mostly only get a super-processed, white American cheese. There is a little European cheese, but it's really expensive. My coworker said, "For how much Koreans pickle and ferment everything, they sure do have a mild taste in cheese!" She also said that there are far more international products available now than when she first came here. Imported beer, olive oil, dried basil, other spices. Anyway, I am now fairly set up in my kitchen as far as basic cookware and ingredients. It's sort of funny to be in my own space making my own food, but have all the labels be in another language.
Last night a big group of the native teachers from the school and a couple other foreign teachers went out to dinner. We met at an Italian restaurant as a meeting spot, then decided it would just be easiest to eat there. I would prefer to wait on eating foreign food until I start to actually miss it, but it was still Italian with a Korean twist. They had pumpkin soup, garnished with an almond cornflake-like cereal. Also, the menu had some funny translations, for example, about a mushroom and ham calzone: "Derived form Italian, trousers, topped with ham and like a dumping"
Trousers?? I was laughing about "like a dumping" the whole way home. It was a nice walk, a little long, and very cold. I'm about 40 minutes from downtown, and snow flurries started en route. I could have easily jumped in a cab at any point, but I was feeling a serious need to walk after so much pasta and cream sauce.
And it's really, really refreshing to be able to walk safely by myself at night. I almost never did that anywhere in Latin America. Besides maybe a few incidents in Seoul, you never hear of foreigners, or locals for that matter, being harrassed or hurt in public. It was nearly 9pm, and there were still many people out, young and old. In fact, some hagwons (private afternoon schools) where just getting out and there were a lot of school kids on their way home. It's pretty unintimidating when most people walking around you are 12 year-olds.
People seemed to have two main concerns about me coming to Korea. The first was my safety. So besides feeling safe in public, I'd like be reassuring that my apartment is also very secure. You have to enter a key code to get in the front door, as well as my apartment. I'm on the 3rd floor so there is no way any one can come in a window. There are fire alarms and motion sensor lights in the stairwell. The other concern was how I would be able to teach English to Korean students when I don't speak Korean. For one thing, they already speak some English and understand even more. Also, it is required by law that foreign teachers have a Korean teacher in class with them. This is safer for the students in case of any incident or emergency. Of course, this is not always the case, but luckily at my school it is.
So basically, I'm teaching words like whisk, eating kimchee, tromping in the snow, hunting for stinky cheese, trying to decipher vinegar labels, and eating higher than normal quantities of crepes. Life is good.