The third graders are learning about food culture in English class. Mrs. Jang tells me “our textbook says foreigners think the smell of dried squid is like the smell of dead body. Do you think so?”
Although my love for dried squid is mere micrometers, I wouldn’t say it smells like putrefation, no. Feet is a better simile, I think. In old gym socks.
The textbook says, in addition, that we foreigners don’t like kimbap, which is interesting since I don’t personally know a single foreigner in Korea who doesn’t like kimbap. And it is apparently common in comedy routines to hide kimchi from foreigners because we don’t like the smell. I don’t know what kimchi smells like and I helped make it.
So she has been using me in class, telling them all what I like and what I don’t like, and as I was drifting off in a Tylenol PM daze last night, I heard Tae Yeon come home and excitedly start telling her mother things I have said about food. Apparently Mrs. Jang told them I like her mother’s kimchi jjigye.
Well, I do.
Although I have to confess that part of the reason I have tried so many things this year is because Koreans seem to have quite an … how do I want to say this –ego? about Korean food. Oh, it is so spicy, oh foreigners think it smells bad, are you sure the foreigner can eat seasoned pork ribs? They seem to take pride in their food being “difficult.” So while I find raw abalone disgusting –and I can’t believe how much they pay to eat something salty, slimy, crunchy and still wriggling with a bitter sack of stomach that makes me gag as I bite into it– I eat one at every school dinner of hweh-shik. Just because I can. And because I realized I was getting respect for it.
Mrs. Jang is in class right now and I hear them chanting in unision “Food culture is like a window…”