I never know what’s for lunch every day at work but it is almost always good! South Korean school lunches make American school lunches look pitiful. Imagine eating Asian home-cooked meals for lunch every day!
So what’s so great about them? Ahhh where do I begin?! Let’s start with the quintessential: rice.
I love love love Korean rice! Even more so than Vietnamese white rice, which is saying A L O T. Some of you may be thinking, rice is just rice right? No, wrong! There are so many variations of rice in Korea, so it always excites me to see what kind they are going to serve up at lunch. In addition to the basic white rice, there’s also pink, purple, grayish, and purple colored rice. Sometimes it has corn, beans, or other grains in it. I especially love Korean rice because of its texture. It isn’t too dry, too wet, too sticky, too short, too long and each grain sticks to the other just ever so slightly. My favorite has got to be the purple rice. I don’t know if the color really adds much to the taste, but I just like the look of it. Rice has been included in every school lunch I have had since day 1. Rice is my weakness. Korean rice will surely throw your no-carb diet out the window.
The stuff all Korean dreams are made of! Kim chi, in case you didn’t know, is a red fermented cabbage dish. Most people either love it or hate it. Rarely would you find someone who stands in the middle on the matter but guess what? I’m one of those in betweeners. I experienced kim chi well before I made it over to Korea and I’ve never loved it or hated it. If it’s there, I eat it. If it’s not, I don’t ever really crave it. That pungent smell is hard to love, but I have to admit that I’ve probably eaten things that smell worse than kim chi. Of all the Korean places I have tried, I still love the kim chi at my school the most because it is fresh. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than old kim chi. I like a little crunch and I appreciate the spicy kick it adds to my rice. 4 out of 5 school lunches come with kim chi. I’ve come to appreciate it more, not to mention, that this stinky stuff has several benefits like probiotics, lowering cholesterol, and boosting immunity.
Aside from rice and kim chi, every school lunch comes with the following:
Fried chicken, hamburger steak, pork cutlets, spicy seasoned pork, and stewed meats are among some of my favorite meat dishes for lunch at school. There are rare occasions though where they don’t serve any meat. I’m so used to having meat as my main course in America that I feel so incomplete whenever there is none for lunch. My thighs will thank me for these meatless days, but I can’t help but feel a little sad whenever my lunch is all carbs and vegetables.
2-3 Banchan (side dishes)
The side dishes are my absolute favorite thing about Korean cuisine! Who doesn’t love variety in their meals? There’s so many of em! Anything from kim chi cucumbers, fried and breaded rice cake, tofu, salty sea weed sheets, salads, greens, broccoli, eggs, and weird chunks of jello looking stuff. I’ve tried them all! Some I love more than others, but there is very few that I dislike. Most of them are vegetable dishes, which instantly make me feel like I’m making good life choices here!
There’s a special place on each lunch tray for a soup bowl. Every soup served at lunch tastes similar to me. The soup is almost always cloudy, which may be off putting to some but it doesn’t bother me. Most soups do not come with any meat, but rather things like tofu, bean sprouts, rice cake, seaweed, fish cake, cabbage and sometimes they even throw hot dogs in there. Every day is a surprise as I pull the ladle up from the huge soup pot at the end of the lunch line.
Not all lunches come with a surprise treat but when there is one….I never skimp on it! Sometimes the treat is just a small fruit juice and other times it could be a sweet pastry. Cream puffs and sponge cake always put a smile on this fatty’s face. Sweet surprises brighten up my day like nothing else!
So it can’t be all good right? True. There was one week that the lunches completely sucked. But for the most part, the lunch ladies at Shincheorwon Middle School throw down in that cafeteria to provide some very satisfying meals for both students and teachers. Lunch is actually my heaviest meal of the day, and I make sure to get my money’s worth of food. It’s the best $3 dollar deal in town!