Saturday, December 23, 2006

Soul Food

Rice and noodles (along with Kimchee) are a central part of the diet here, but after two months I'm pining for some food that tastes just like home, just once every now and again would be fine. But the fact is my quest for some nice food from home is eluding me. It's not to say there aren't many fine local dishes - there are - but sometimes you just want a break from the new and opt instead for the comfort and familiarity of the old.

Because dark off-the-bone meat seems to be what Koreans prefer - at least as far as chicken is concerned - it's meant finding the kind of chicken I like has been almost impossible thus far. All the chicken meat is dark, one 'chicken'-topped pizza so much so that I actually doubted it was chicken at all. It could be the first time in known history that a person could look at a piece of unidentified meat and pronounce that in fact, it didn't taste like chicken.

And it's caught me out. We ordered chicken nuggets from a local takeaway and I had visions of KFC-like white meat steaming out of a spicy batter, but what arrived was weapons-grade dark-grey meat with accompanying gristle and bone. I discovered this after biting into one, impacting some particularly tough gristle on a tooth and ending up with toothache for three days afterwards. I keep thinking I'll have to give up on the chicken thing.

Pizza, is as ever, not quite pizza. Koreans are not big on sauce, to the point that one pizza I had a few days ago was more like cheese on toast. But the toppings are not minimalistic despite the lack of sauce. Most pizza makers seem to like putting just about everything they can on top of a pizza, to the point that most of them seem to end up feeling like a 'combo' even if they carry different names. But there are some oddities - there are a lot of potato topped pizzas here. My favourite place remains the 'Mr. Pizza' chain where it is a little more like back home, even if the store subtitles itself "Pizza for Women" in a bizarre marketing strategy which makes me feel like I shouldn't actually be eating there.

Amused to find a can of Italian baked beans in a local Top-Mart, we bought it only to realise, in best Homer Simpson fashion, that we actually didn't have a tin-opener. So it may tell you something about my diet that we haven't needed one for the first two months here. When we eventually bought a cheap opener from a local store, they transpired to be too salty. Lots of things are salty here - Koreans like salt - but unfortunately my Meniere's Disease does not.

Korean food - even when it's Korean versions of Western food - remains a minefield. I really do like the shrimp-burgers from Lotteria and I'm eating more hoddug '호떡' and red-bean filled hoppang '호빵' than can be good for me.

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