Category Archives: Writing Prompts
Food! One of my favorite topics indeed! Since being in Korea, I have eaten so many delicious meals that it’s hard to know where to start.
I lied, yes I do. 김치. Kimchi is fermented cabbage is a chili paste sauce. I have heard that for most people you either love it or you hate it. I love it, which is great because it is served with every single meal. Koreans love their kimchi and so do I. Some Koreans have been surprised that I enjoy kimchi as much as I do. It’s been a great way to talk to people! If you just can’t get into the cabbage, there are other variations of kimchi such as radish kimchi. You might find the one you like. Hey, I know some people who came here hating kimchi and now they love it.
It would be good for you would have love for rice. You eat rice with almost every meal. Being Nigerian, this was perfectly fine with me since I grew up eating rice almost every day. For others, this might get a little redundant, but never fear! If ever in need for an old-fashioned hamburger and fries, Seoul has you covered too. From McDonalds to Taco Bell, you can have your fast food fix anytime of the day. Now personally, I didn’t come to South Korea for food I can have in Dallas. I’ve eaten so many wonderful Korean dishes like 불고기(Bulgogi) Korean beef and 잡채(japchae), a kind of clear noodle with vegetables and meat. In all honesty, I have eaten these dishes back in the States. I am fortunate enough to have a Korean food restaurant right on my campus! So for me, I was excited to try new foods and compare the ones I’ve eaten in Dallas.
The food that has become my whole world while in Korea is 삼겹설 (samgyupsal) or pork belly barbecue! I can imagine some people reading, especially those out of the south (am I stereotyping?) would be shocked. Pork belly? Three words. Di. Li. Cious. Now I’d always seen the grilled meat at different Korean restaurants, but I never knew what was enticing about it. Firstly, I thought the price was absurd. Only once coming to Korea did I learn it was a group rate. And I couldn’t understand why there was so many side dishes that no one seemed to ever eat out of. Now I have learned the art of Samgyupsal. The meat is grilled, which on its own is absolutely delicious, but it is enhanced with what I like to call the Monster Concoction. You take a leaf, I have no idea what kind of vegetable it is but I love it. Then you put one or two pieces of meat inside. Add any of the (seemingly untouched) side dishes that you desire in as well. This is usually onion, green onion, garlic (it is not as strong as in the States), kimchi, and anything else that’s given. You then dip your leaf wrap into any of the sauces given. I also have no idea what they are, but they are delicious. Then in order to eat it properly you must stuff the entire leaf wrap with its contents into your mouth. That’s right folks! There’s no room for the weary here. This is the secret to complete enjoyment. When you are eating your wrap, feel free to shed a single tear in happiness. No one will judge you. In fact, they might join along and/or clap in encouragement. The great news, as if it could get any better, is that you do not have to only eat grilled pork belly. There are several different parts and kinds of meats that you can eat! The two most common are pork and beef, but they are several different options for those that want it.
Not a meat eater? No problem! Clearly samgyupsal and the grill are not for you but there are several options in the Korean palette that are meat free. Basically every kind of food can be eaten with the meat excluded and still be satisfying. My suggestion would be the food I eat probably too often, 비빔밥(bibimbap). Bibimbap is a large bowl with rice, vegetables and sauce. Many times, meat and or an egg is added, but this can be taken out. Now my description may seem a bit lacking, but in essence that truly is the entire dish. Like most all dishes here, it can vary greatly depending on who makes it and where you are. In fact, just last night I saw one with curry which is very unique. Normally, you can find, seaweed, bean sprouts, carrot and mushrooms. I remember the first time I had it, I didn’t know I was supposed to mix everything together so I sat there eating plain veggies wondering why everyone ordered it so often. All I can do is sit back and laugh now. I eat it maybe twice a week or more now!
It’s very difficult to go hungry here. There are great prices and great food to match, regardless of your taste.
I had high expectations for the food in Barbados. Going to a country surrounded by water, I was excited try the fresh fish, and with its tropical climate I was looking forward to enjoying the local fresh produce. I even traveled with a small blender, thinking that I would have an opportunity to make yummy fruit smoothies for breakfast everyday. Sadly; however, my high expectations for Bajan cuisine have not been met. In fact, if anything the adjusting food in Barbados has been one of the biggest struggles I have had in my study abroad experience.
This is not to say that the food in Barbados is bad. Perhaps, if I had come with more realistic expectations, then maybe I would have enjoyed the food here more. For example, although I expected to find fresh fish everywhere, I have yet to consume fresh fish that I did not cook myself. In general, they serve fish fried. While fried fish is delicious, as a Californian who does not normally consume a large amount of fried food, it was an adjustment for my stomach to consume fried fish on the regular basis rather than as an occasional treat.
The easy remedy for this would to be to buy fresh fish and cook it myself. However, this is not as easy as it may seem. The fish in the grocery store is rarely fresh, and has often imported from somewhere else. Being a student with limited transportation in a country with a very confusing transportation system, it is difficult to get to the beach side vendors who sell fresh fish.
The situation is similar with produce. While I expected to find an abundance of local fruits and vegetables available, most of the produce in the grocery store is imported and is often half bad since it had to cross an ocean or two to get all the way to Barbados. I have found that the best produce tends to come from street vendors. Locally grown spinach, cucumbers, and okra are delicious; however, even the street vendors don’t usually to have fruit to sell and I have to settle for the half rotten imported fruit from the grocery store.
Though the national dish is flying fish and cou-cou (similar to a blend of cornmeal and okra, it can also be made with breadfruit) and my expectations to find fish everywhere, Bajans eat a lot more chicken than fish. The typical Bajan meal will consist of meat (usually chicken), a starch, and vegetables. Other Bajan fare includes fish cakes, macaroni pie, coconut bread, rum punch, and pudding and souse. I haven’t had the opportunity to try cou-cou, but I have tried everything else. The only dish I did not like was the pudding and souse. The pudding consists of some kind of intestine and sausage and the souse is pickled pork. My favorite food in Barbados has been the macaroni pie, which is basically macaroni and cheese that is baked. I also really enjoy the coconut bread.
Living in another country has made me realize how essential food can be to making me feel at home. It has also helped me to appreciate the variety of food options available to me in California.
Indisputably, one of the must have experiences while traveling is eating local cuisine. Hands down, nothing but food will let you know a culture more intimately. I have noticed that in many places I have traveled how small culinary differences can sometimes unravel an entire cultural outlook on existence. The customs of eating a dinner can represent the morals of a people just as well sometimes as a moral treatise.
Chinese cuisine is no exception to this rule, and this is why I try to go out and eat different Chinese foods almost every day I live in Beijing.
Beijing’s street food is a must have. Not only is it dirt cheap – you may find yourself spending only 4 kuai, the equivalent of $0.75, on a meal – but it is also an experience, similar to getting a hot dog in Times Square. On many street corners there are food peddlers showing off their goods to thousands of people each night. There are fried meats on a stick, meat and veggie wraps, 包子bāozi, noodles, candy carts, and much more, from fruit to sweet potatoes and roasted nuts.
My favorite street food is a delectable treat that is a Beijing original: 糖葫芦 tánghúlu. Essentially, all it is are a bunch of fruits on a stick and covered in hot melted sugar and then cooled so that the sugar forms an ice-like casing of sweetness around the fruit. It is like a magical fruit salad that is portable and even better than fruit salad – sorry fruit salad, you know I still love you! I like the strawberry ones the most, but they come in many varieties, including mixtures of kiwi, grapes, pineapple, tomatoes, strawberries, hawthorn, and more.
I also love roaming around Beijing and looking for small restaurants, that most other foreigners are too sketched out by to eat in. These restaurants serve genuine Chinese food, that most Chinese people actually eat. One such place I found is in 五道口Wǔdàokǒu and it is called 成都小吃Chéngdū xiǎochī, literally meaning ‘Chengdu snacks.’ Chengdu is the capital city of 四川Sìchuān province China, a province well-known for its 辣味儿là wèir, spicy flavor. Often while there, I order 麻婆豆腐má pó dòufu, a traditional type of soft tofu drenched in a thick spicy soup, and 宫保鸡丁gōng bǎo jī ding, which is exactly what it sounds like: Kung pao chicken. Except this Kung pao chicken has 四川花椒Sìchuān huājiāo Sichuan flower peppers, which after a few bits will numb your mouth, making everything you taste far more intriguing.
Unlike in America, the way to eat this food is by having a bowl of rice for yourself and taking from communal dishes what you are eating. Usually, when I think of ordering food at a restaurant, I order something and other people order their own dishes and we eat from our individual plates. Though it may be argued that sharing dishes at the center of a table is not exactly hygienic, it also opens conversation up by encouraging interaction with others at the table. It is also common courtesy to make sure everyone at the table always has enough food. Imagine a Thanksgiving dinner and how everyone is always happy and talking to one another as they get each other food, that is what the Chinese style of eating is like.
In addition to having simply amazing spicy food – I am pretty much in love with Sichuanese food! This small restaurant does not cater too much to foreigners, meaning that it gives a more authentic Chinese feel. It is a great place to practice some 汉语Hànyǔ – Chinese – and observe customs. One of my favorite observations is how Chinese men – though it may be more of a Sichuanese custom – drink beer from tall bottles, but they always pour the beer into what is almost a shot glass. It appears to be that throughout history Chinese have never drank from a tall glass, but instead have had a larger container that they pour into smaller cups or bowls. This is mostly founded on how historically Chinese have drunk their tea; they are drinking the beer in a way that is culturally molded by centuries of tea drinking. Also, their glasses are never empty because if someone drinks theirs another will fill his and then toast him. This is a way for men to enjoy each other and for them to gain ‘face.’
面子miànzi, noun: face; reputation; prestige, etc.
‘Face’ is a cultural concept in China that helps mold social order. It is one’s reputation as a polite individual. The concept is more complicated than I can fully explain here, but in the instance of the man pouring the other man more beer he is showing that he is kind and unselfish. Qualities such as parsimony, fickleness, and being ungrateful hurt one’s ‘face,’ so by sharing beer and encouraging the other to have a good time, this man is building his ‘face.’ At the same time, the fact that the other man cheers the one who pours the beer and drinks with him is a way of giving him ‘face.’ If he did not drink the beer he would be harming his friend’s ‘face.’ It is important to work on building one’s ‘face’ in China, but it is also important to 给面子gěimiànzi, meaning literally to ‘give face.’ This concept runs back far into Chinese history, back to the Confucian concept that life should be well-ordered, and people should be respectful of one another. Confucius even believed that ritual and music, as Lin Yutang wrote in The Wisdom of Confucius, were needed to create a “moral harmony which should make government itself unnecessary” (Yutang, 8). ‘Ritual and music’ means social interactions and customs, as well as ritual and musical performance, and this cultural concern with ‘face’ is a direct product of this philosophy. It makes it amazing to see how the philosophy of a man who lived over 2500 years ago is still in practice today, even in a small Sichuanese restaurant down a back alley in modern steel and glass Beijing. To be part of that is a great privilege I have. Whenever I go to this restaurant with a friend, I always make sure to keep his glass filled and his face smiling.
Below is a graph describing culture shock and reverse culture shock. Have you identified with any of these stages? Describe certain situations or stages of your study abroad experience and how they relate to the graph.
Have you discovered or relished in the natural beauty of your host country?
How environmentally conscious are the inhabitants of your host country? Does the level of consciousness have an effect on the surrounding environment?
Are there any habits that promote a healthy environment in your study abroad country that you would like to take back to the United States?
Have you been following politics in your host country? What is the system/form of government practiced in your study abroad country? (i.e. democracy, parliamentary monarchy, republic).
How does the political system or environment differ from the U.S.?
Have the trending political opinions of local citizens caused you to reflect on policies and political discourse in the U.S.? If so, how?
What kinds of pressing policy debates are occurring in your host country, and do you have an opinion on them?
Describe the level of political or engagement of local undergraduate students you have encountered.