Sharing the stew of social life (microbes and all)Maybe it’s a male thing. Koreans have a saying that men make friends by going to a bathhouse together. For women, I think it’s the other way around ― we have to become friends first before getting naked.
It’s the same with food. I can’t share food with strangers. I could probably share the table, but I prefer ordering separate plates.
Making jokes and flirting with people I don’t know isn’t so hard. But I can’t do what is normal for most Koreans ― eat from the same bowl.
If you ask me why, I wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer. It may be because the experience of sharing food is so intimate. Or maybe because I was born in an era of epidemics ― as a kid, we had to get a million different immunization shots every semester. Somewhere in that process, I may have become overly cautious about mixing bodily fluids with strangers.
Or maybe, as readers of this column may have already guessed, I was just a neurotic kid from the day I was born.
Most of the time, I solve the problem of dining with strangers by ordering something I don’t have to share. I quietly stick to my own plate and maintain a safe distance.
For people like me, eating Korean food can be either torture or bliss depending on my dining partners.
I hadn’t realized this until I had a late-night pot of pork-bone stew, or gamjatang, with my colleagues recently. As we were eating, I noticed how much more Korean food forces people to interact compared to other cuisines.
Not only do you share the same pot, but many main dishes take longer to finish eating. Consider all the pot-stirring, BBQ-flipping and serving that happens while eating Korean food. Then imagine the number of soju glasses being passed around.
But there seems to be a clear bonding between some people when they eat and drink together.
The mentality of offering drinks to strangers, for example, is largely based on the attitude, “let’s drink together until we collapse together.”
It may be their way of making friends, but not mine.
At the end of the night, they may have shaken off hostility for each other. How could you not befriend someone who stirs his spoon in the same pot of food that you’ve just dipped your spoon? But in my defense, I raise this question: how could you mix spit with someone you hardly know?
How to Cook
Ingredients: 1 kg of pork bones, 8 potatoes, 2 teaspoons of chili paste, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of ground sesame seeds, 2 green onions, a little bit of crushed garlic and ginger, salt and pepper, 1/4 onion
1. Soak the pork bones in cold water overnight to take out the blood.
2. Cook the potatoes in a steamer for half an hour.
3. In a pot, add chili paste, garlic, sliced onions, ginger, salt, pepper and chili powder.
4. On medium heat add the pork bones and potatoes.
5. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Add green onions just before serving.
by Park Soo-mee