A recipe for confusion: Teaching cooking in Korean

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A recipe for confusion: Teaching cooking in Korean

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“Repeat after me! Tteokbokgi!” cried out Kim Su-jin, the director of Food & Culture Academy in Seoul’s Singyo district. She speaks differently when she teaches her cooking class ― every syllable is pronounced clearly and slowly. Even with this effort, her class cried back, “Tteo-bo-gi.”
The class comprised blue-eyed young men, a Japanese-looking woman and a woman with Southeast Asian features. Ms. Kim teaches Korean cooking to non-Koreans. She does not speak in English and does not use an interpreter. Boosted by the popularity of the Korean television drama “Daejanggeum,” (known as “Jewel in the Palace”) Korean cooking classes catering to non-Koreans have boomed, but Ms. Kim’s “all Korean” cooking class uses a different recipe.
The class was started four years ago by the academy. Typically, only half the students are Korean.
“My non-Korean students are mostly students Yonsei University’s Korean Language Institute. As they are all students who want to learn about Korea’s culture and language, I feel that it isn’t necessary for me to teach in English or Japanese. Through this experience, I hope to help them in learning more about Korean food as well as the Korean language,” Ms. Kim explained.
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Judging from the facial expressions of the students in the middle of class, perhaps a third understood everything Ms. Kim said. Half of the students seem to be struggling with the class, while the other 20 percent of them seemed to catch up only when Ms. Kim did her cooking demonstrations.
One Japanese married couple in the class said they learned about bibimbap, rice and mixed vegetables, and bulgogi, marinated barbequed beef, last week, adding that the dishes were, contrary to what they had expected, easy to make.
Another student, Katerina Kostroinina from Russia, said that she wants to quickly learn how to make tteokbokgi ― those rice cakes Ms. Kim was trying to have her class pronounce properly ― and that Korean peppers taste “amazing.”
After some time, the class was split into groups of three to make the dishes they learned that day: tteokbokgi and seafood pancakes. The students seemed to be having a hard time of it, though. One group put too much red pepper paste into the tteokbokgi dish that an assistant teacher had to come and help, while another group accidentally broke its seafood pancake in half. Although there were some cries for help directed towards the assistant teachers, the general mood of the classroom was warm and friendly.
Towards the end of the class, the time came for the groups to take a look at each other’s creations. The tteokbokgi dishes looked similar, but the pancakes were mutants. There was one that looked square and another in a half-moon shape. One group that included a young American man, David Parry, burnt its pancake, which was given the dubious honor of “the day’s worst seafood pancake.”


by Yoo Jee-sang

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