If the cafeteria food at JJU is representative of the food in Korea, I’m in trouble. I tried the kimchi on the first day to be a good sport, but I didn’t like it. I really wanted to like it, but it just didn’t happen. Fortunately, the cafeteria kimchi is only one recipe and there are lots of others.
Some of the food is decent, but none of it is particularly good. It’s basically the Korean version of American cafeteria food. A few of the things have been pretty tasty, but most of them are bland and unimpressive. I have made an effort to be adventurous, which has led me into a few frantic napkin searches. I almost choked on a dessert – it was a small ball filled with honey and sugar (really gritty from the sugar). It was so sweet that it shocked me.
The thing I miss the most is proper breakfast. They have served meals that are breakfast-like, as a concession to western students, but they are not breakfast. In fact, any buffet line that begins with kimchi and beef is not breakfast. Fortunately, the eggs were pretty awesome. That was a big help.
Enough about cafeteria food, though. The exciting part of life here is the bar. On Monday night (our first full day together), several of us walked down the street from our dorm and found some bars. A group of about 15 teachers from my orientation group and I found a little dive bar upstairs in an unmarked building. It was called Manhattan. Nothing in the restaurant has anything to do with Manhattan, so I think someone must have liked the sound of the word.
The waitress and her boss didn’t speak English, but they were very nice and made a huge effort to be helpful. We are all getting better at charades every day, so it wasn’t too hard to order more beer and soju. The beer is a basic American-style light beer called Hite. Soju is a type of rice wine that is like a less harsh version of vodka. I don’t love it, but I have had a few shots. It is notorious for sneaking up on you because it tastes weaker than it is. I am very cautious with soju.
The first night out, 15 of us drank a lot of beer and soju. Nobody was very drunk, but we all had at least a few beers and at least one shot of soju. When the bill came, most of us expected it to be around $200 or more. We thought that $15-$20 each was a reasonable price for several beers and a shot or two. Everyone was blown away when it ended up being less than $100. I am convinced that you could drink yourself to death for $20 here.
I returned to Manhattan with a smaller group last night. The bartender and manager (or owner, maybe) are starting to recognize me by now. As soon as they saw us come in, the bartender grabbed three bottles of Hite and set them on the table as we were sitting down. In the middle of our second round, the manager came over to our table with a piece of rope. We were totally confused, until he said ma-jeek-uh show-uh (magic show). We had a blast watching him do a few tricks for us. He explained every trick beforehand – in Korean. It was as if he had practiced putting on a show and refused to break script, even if his audience couldn’t understand a word. His assistant, the bartender, helped us understand what the manager wanted by motioning with his hands (charades again). If I were staying here, I would totally become a regular at Manhattan.
Once the magic show was finished, we ordered a fried chicken dish that came with french fries and was amazing. The chicken seemed to be fried twice as it was extra crispy. It came with a sweet chili sauce and some other type of hot sauce. It was almost too hot for me, but I couldn’t stop eating it. I thought of my dad as soon as I dipped one of the super-crunchy crinkle fries in the hot sauce. I think it would be right up his alley.
I’ve noticed that all of the bars have a type of bar food that I have never seen before. Every table has a basket (or bowl) of small rice-puffs that are sweet and crunchy. They taste exactly like Kix cereal. I have never had any bar food quite like these things. I’ll work on finding out what they’re called.
Here are some other photos that I have taken over the past few days at the bar. Please excuse the quality of the pictures – my iPod does not like taking pictures without decent light:
Until next time.