14 Things Korea taught me

1. Kimchi. You get so tired of hearing how amazing kimchi is that you get a bit blaze and cynical about it. The hype is true though: kimchi’s probiotic content is a godsend to your stomach. The only thing I’d cut down on is the salt content on this side dish to make it truly perfect.

2. Persimmon. This fruit has two varieties: a squidgy one (hongshi) and a hard one (dan gam). I prefer the hard one personally but did you know that a persimmon packs more punch than an apple? Check out its nutritional value.

3. Meals that incorporate loads of veggies. There is always an abundance of vegetable side dishes as part of any Korean meal. Again, the only thing I’d change is salt content, as many veggies are soaked in salt first, drained and then served.

4. Wrap your meat in leaves. Sesame (Perilla) leaves are my favourite discovery here.

5. Marmelade as tea! Best thing ever. You can also find quince tea which is perfectly spreadable on a piece of bread.

6. Walnut, almond, adlait tea. Used as a meal replacement drink or a snack, this tea nutty tea contains fatty acids that help reduce cholesterol and control blood pressure. It is unbeatable during winter time! More about the amazing world of Korean tea here.

7. Bone broth. Bones and marrow have fallen out of Western culinary favour but there are great benefits to consuming it! It contains calcium phosphate and collagen. You know how we always remark how Asians seem to age so much better than Westerners? Obviously genetics play a part but food also contributes to strong bones and nails, smooth skin and shiny hair.

8. Pig’s feet (Jokbal). I was so confused by this when I bought it the first time at emart. Ten dollars and it’s mostly bone and fat??! WHAAT??! But jokbal DOES have meat on it and again, the collagen content is beneficial to hair, nails and skin.

9. Black coffee. It took a while to get used to but a cup of black coffee has on average 6kcal whereas any shop version containing milk or cream is around 200kcal. Do the math!

10. Zero waste. Use as much of the plant/ animal as you can- waste nothing! I applaud thsi highly sustainable use of resources and I think if you’re going to kill an animal the this is the best way to honour its death.

11. Seaweed. Iodine and many other vitamins and minerals. Just don’t get addicted to kim sheets, the small ones you wrap around rice. They are only salt and fat. The nutrition’s been stripped from them completely. (They taste amazing though).

12. Outdoor gyms. They’re free, they’re everywhere and they use body resistance to build muscle! Koreans are active regardless of their age and you always see them at the outdoor gyms, walking backwards or hiking.

13. Booze. Due to my apartment’s proximity to restaurants and bars I’ve heard my fair share of loutish drunken arguments this year. I could even hear my neighbours getting physically abusive with each other in the middle of the night. It’s given me a different perspective on the destructive aspects of alcohol consumption and I’ve curbed my own habit substantially.

14. But booze!! It’s not all bad… in moderation. Maesil (green plum) wine for example, helps with digestion.

I feel like many of the ideas around food used to be part of Western culture too, before the advent of convenience food. We’ve made untampered, real food expensive and made fake food cheap. We’ve become so fussy about what our fruit and veg should look like in order to be “edible” and the same with the meat we eat! The pre 1950’s generations recognised the nutritunal value of different animal parts and had no qualms about using them all. How many people have peanut allergies in Korea? Not many!!!!! This seems to be a Western problem! The only thing that Korean women avoid eating during pregnancy is raw fish. They still eat cooked fish, peanuts, chillies, dairy…

Sadly, the Western diet has made inroads into Korea in the last decade and you can see a lot more chubby kids shuffling around. Bread, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, lots of deep fried foods and dairy products are being intergrated into modern Korean culture and it will be interesting to see how this affects the nation’s overall health over time.

Thanks Korea for teaching me so many things about food and nutrition!


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