Monday, December 10, 2012

A Week in School Lunches

Since so many people have asked me what we are fed for lunch at school, I decided to do a post about a week's worth of middle school lunches. It should be noted that we eat the same things as the kids - though they always complain that we get more, which, to be fair, is true, they don't get to go back for seconds ;).

Going clockwise from 12 o'clock, we have pork stewed in vegetables and oyster sauce (굴소스돈육불고기), a spiced mixed green and onion salad (가랏겉절이), kimchi and bean sprout soup (김치콩나물국), rice with barley (보리밥), and dried fish and almonds in a sweet and spicy dressing (아몬드쥐손채볶음) - Soo yummy! There was also yogurt served with this meal, but as a lactose intolerant, I did not partake.

School lunches in Korea (and much of Asia) always seem to be served in these specialised metal trays. The smaller deeper bowls at the top are for your side dishes, or banchan (반찬), while the shallower, more central indentation is meant for the main dish. The usages of these three receptacles do seem to be somewhat interchangeable however - particularly if the main course is saucy or there is a flat side or dessert served.
Tuesdays main dish was mackerel in a boiled kimchi sauce (묵은지고등어조림). (I cannot adequately express my love). As sides, there were Lotus roots simmered in sweetened soy sauce with toasted sesame seeds (연근조림 - top right), the ever-present kimchi (also top right) and spicy chicory, cucumber and octopus salad (치커리오이초무침 - top left and sooo good!). This was accompanied by a baby clam, potato, noodle and vegetable soup (바지락감자수제비국 - also delicious) and 'eco' brown rice (친환경현미밥). Dessert (not pictured here for intolerance reasons) was 'creamy cheese corn' (옥수수콘치즈구이). Apparently it's very tasty. I'm not so sure. 

The lower two bowls are reserved for rice and soup. The rice is always placed on the left and the soup on the right. Don't mix these up, you will get a ridiculously large number of strange looks if you do! (And this from people who didn't flinch when I started photographing my lunches!). As with all Korean meals, you are also given a spoon and chopsticks. The spoon is for both the soup and rice, while the chopsticks are for everything else. Eating your rice with chopsticks will garner you looks just as strange as if you'd put your soup in the wrong bowl.

Occasionally, the main dish, due to it's nature, will need to be placed in one of the larger slots - or, as in this case, in a bowl in one of the larger slots - in that case, many Koreans will simply fill one of the banchan bowls with rice. In this photo, the main course is in the bottom left-hand corner and is a Korean-ified Chinese dish called Jajangmyeon (자장면), or noodles with peas, carrots and beef cubes in black bean sauce. As sides we had a fried breaded shrimp in a sweet and spicy chili-peanut sauce (깐쇼새우 - sooo good!), cabbage kimchi, cubed radish kimchi (깍두기 김치), and sweet (yellow) pickled radish (단무지). The soup was (oddly not listed on the menu) a broth with shrimp, seaweed and green onions. In the top right corner you can see some asian pear (배) for dessert.

 Both rice and soup are present at every meal (even when I don't take any as the main dish is noodle based as above). The rice is left plain so that you can used it too soothe your poor tongue should any of the other food prove to be too spicy (as is often the case - though I am also partial to mixing my sides into my rice). The soup can also be used to serve this important function. It's mainly there for another reason however, Koreans don't believe in drinking water while eating! (Though they do believe in drinking alcohol... hmm...) This is so that you have space in your stomach for food. Water is often drunk after the meal. I don't know about you, but personally, I get thirsty when I eat!

In this instance, my main dish is located in the top left corner bowl, and it is absolutely delectable steam-braised pork short ribs stewed with dates and grapes (돼지갈비찜). The sides on offer included the inevitable kimchi (not pictured here), salad with chili-paste dressing (성추겉저리), whole rice (쌀밥), and seaweed soup (미역국). For dessert, we had delicious almond and orange rind cake and oranges.

Another element which is present at every meal is kimchi (김치), or fermented cabbage dressed in spicy chili sauce. While I don't necessarily add it to my dish every time, a number of the other teachers will fill their banchan bowls to overflowing with kimchi (and look curiously at me when I don't - similarly, they always say I don't take enough rice!). If you look carefully at the upper right hand bowl two pictures above, you'll notice that I not only had normal cabbage kimchi, but kkadugi (깍두기 김치), or cubed radish, kimchi as well.

And for the final platter, we had seafood patties in oyster sauce (해물동그랑땡 - a lot more delicious than you might expect!). Our sides were wasabi beansprout and crab salad (와사비 콩나물무침), kimchi and tiny dried whole anchovies in a spicy sweetened sesame sauce (멸치 조림 - also a lot better than you might think!). Rice was plan white, while the soup was a variation of my favourite - jjigae! In this case, it was tuna jjigae (참치 찌개) but pork, beef and kimchi jjigae are all also common.

Overall, I find my school lunches to be varied and super delicious - all the more so as they only run me 3,000 (or $2.75 US) per day. This is likely a good thing as eating lunch in the cafeteria alongside all of the students and other teachers is seen as being an integral aspect of participation in school life. This is so much the case that it is seen as terribly rude to leave the table before everyone in your group is finished - especially if that would leave one person sitting alone.

잘 먹겠습니다!
(Jal Mokgetsumnida! - Eat Well!)

Author's Note: A Massive THANK YOU! to science teacher 박형도 for helping me identify and name all of the foods!!! 감사합니다!!!


Gilleen said...

A thousand applauses Ally: I love food descriptions/photos/rants commentaries. You have inspired me to look up recipes and make these Korean school lunches myself (but vegetarian styles, strange, I know).

Stay cool


Ally S said...

OOh! Let me know how they turn out!