Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Eleven Steps of School Lunches

Possibly the greatest education I have received about Korean culture has come from school lunches. 

Just like any other school, we eat lunch in the cafeteria. And just like any other school cafeteria, folks are not very fond of the food. Admittedly, I have some good food and I've had some bad food. Every day is an interesting escapade. But not just because of the food. No, there are certain behaviors that you have to learn. And when I stray from these steps, I am quickly corrected.

Step one: When it's time for lunch we all go together (the Korean word for "together" is 같이 or "gatchi." We do a lot of gatchi). Sometimes I'll say, "I'm just going to finish this and then I'll join you." But they sit down and wait. And then I feel bad. I've learned to just drop everything and go.

Step two: We all wash our hands gatchi.

Step three: We all cut to the front of the line in front of the hungry sixth graders. However, the practice of cutting involves standing near the line, waiting to be acknowledged, bowing to the homeroom teacher, and waiting for her/him to allow us in.

Step four: Take a spoon, two chopsticks, and a tray (no cups, no drink, no napkins). Hold the tray in the appropriate position. Bow and say "thank you"  (감사합니다  or gam sa hab nida)  as you get your food from each lunch lady. I've also learned important Korean words like: "Just a little, please" and "Pile it on!"

Step five: Sit down, look at food, make eye contact with someone to explain what the food is. This is always somewhat of a fun game because often there isn't an easily translatable equivalent in English, but they are very kind to take time to explain things to me using apps on their smart phones.

Step six: Then we dig in. Often, if something has gluten in it, I'll offer it to someone else at the table. There is a lot of reaching and grabbing with chopsticks across the table. Someone is always willing to polish off my kimchi. And there has not been a single day at lunch that kimchi was not served. I've gathered it's the equivalent of salsa in Mexico. A Korean-American friend tells me a traditional Korean meal always involves: rice, kimchi, a meat, and a soup. Lunch here usually looks something like this...

L: rice sticks, M: fried tofu, R: seaweed soup

L: duck, M: balloon flower (?), R: fried rice stick filled with cheese and drizzled in honey

R: some apple-flavored yogurt drink thing

L: cake, R: chop chay noodles (pretty good)

L: bi bim bop (YAY!) and a jumbo shrimp

R: silken tofu drizzled with soy sauce (not a fav)

L: I think these are Korean savory pancakes

L: seaweed wrappers (yum!)

L: sompyeon (a tasty rice cake

R: we have a lot of fried fish

M: sometimes we randomly have pizza

Between Jeremy and I's school lunches we have sampled:
-pork blood
-chicken feet/cartilage

Korean food is quite inventive. I've eaten things I didn't know even existed.

Step seven: If you are finished eating, you do not (I repeat)--do not get up. You wait until everyone is finished (gatchi, remember?). But while you are waiting, you should put all of your leftovers into one bowl so it's all together.

Step eight: We all stand up at the same time, dump our food, and put our trays away.

Step nine: Get a cup, drink some water, put the cup away, grab a tissue, look in the mirror, straighten hair and check teeth. Walk away.

Step ten: Everyone goes to the teacher's room and traditionally the youngest person in the room offers to make coffee or tea for everyone else. Making coffee means mixing Maxim coffee mix with hot water. Then, often people sit down to chat.

You thought you were done. No. When someone mentions work they have to get done and bows to say goodbye, then everyone kind of disperses. But NOT before....

Step eleven: Everyone goes and brushes their teeth together.

Lunch complete!


skim life said...

yay im quoted! lol. they sure do give you a lot of rice~

Lindsey said...

Can I just tell you how brave you are, Heather? There are so many aspects that go into "leaving your comfort zone" and this is one I would really, really struggle with. You're kind of awesome. :)