Monday, October 26, 2009

Allegience to the pickled cabbage

I swear sometimes I feel like I'm in some weird kimchi cult since I've moved to Korea. Kimchi is not just a food, but a religion. For most Koreans, a meal cannot even be considered a meal unless it includes rice and kimchi. And just like certain things that cults do in their eating habits or behaviors, it'll make the other members real nervous if you aren't participating. Today I was eating lunch at the teacher overflow table (where teachers sit when the main teacher table is full). It was just the school nurse and myself. There was a heaping bowl of kimchi in the middle of the table between us that I intentionally avoided helping myself to. There's a certain point in the year when they've just kept the kimchi in the fridge WAY too long. It just starts tasting stale. I love kimchi when it's fresh, or even sometimes when it's super fermented, but never when it has that stale flavor from having been trapped in sealed tupperware containers in a freezer for the past 6 months or so. I noticed immediately the nurse getting nervous because I didn't take any, so without saying anything she pushed the steel bowl closer to my tray. The comical thing about this impulsive gesture was that the bowl was already like 6 inches away from my tray, so cleary close enough for me to reach it; she pushed it to the point that had it been any closer it would have been touching my tray. Although, I still silently refrained from taking any kimchi out of the bowl. I could totally notice her eyes peering over at me throughout the meal nervously, agitated, every so often. It felt like the type of look you give someone, completely out of your control, that has their fly unzipped or some huge green vegetable fiber caught between their teeth, but you don't feel like you know them well enough to say anything.

Then after I was almost finished, perhaps as a desparate gesture to try and remind me that I STILL hadn't eaten any kimchi, the nurse made a soft grunt and placed more kimchi on her own tray, when it was obvious she still had a healthy pile she hadn't finished yet. What was funny was that she carefully placed the tongs back into the bowl so that they were obviously facing me and nudged the bowl even closer to my tray.

No matter how many days I don't eat the kimchi at school, this type of occurance is common. The older male staff like the ping pong coach, the groundskeeper and the principal will actually pick up the bowl and pass it to me saying "David-uh-kimchi!" in a sharp low voice. I love observing those inexplicable culturally driven impulses in behavior. I always wonder what odd cultural behavior we display when we're viewed by foreigners.

I suppose it makes sense, though, to think so highly of kimchi, as it did allow an entire country to continue eating vegetables during the cold winter months, before more advanced farming methods were invented. And kimchi contains enough vitamin-C to prevent scurvy, and enough other vitamins to prevent other illnesses that can occur from lack of vegetables in the diet.

1 comment:

rob said...

i'm not surprised the nurse specifically was the pushy one as there is a common belief that fermented food is good for the immune system, thus in times of pandemia (yes, i just invented that word ;p), eating kimchi is an act of prevention.

like the cult of the mushroom, the kimchi transcends food. you know what would be cool? kimchi on mushrooms :)...not that i indulge in that kind of thing...anymore.