Traveller Stories [Louise’s Story] Korean hospitality and the importance of food

[Louise’s Story] Korean hospitality and the importance of food

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Some of the many reasons I keep coming back to South Korea are the hospitality, helpfulness, and curiosity of the Korean people.

Of course there are bad people everywhere and while I’ve met less pleasant people in Korea as well, the majority of my interactions with strangers have been great. Personally I’m a big fan of these stories about meetings between people of different cultures and today I’d like to share a few of my own.

The first story that comes to mind is from the first time I went to Korea. I went there with a group of friends and one night we went out to eat BBQ or, in Korean, “samgyeopsal” (삼겹살, pork belly) in a neighborhood called Jongno in Seoul. When eating this, you are supposed to grill the meat yourself and eat it by wrapping it in mint- or salad leaves. My friends and I had never tried this before and the owners of the place, an older couple, must have noticed because they came over and taught us how to cut and place the meat on the stone grill. Although the place was bustling, they kept coming back to cook the meat for us and, when it was done, showed us how to wrap it and what to mix in with it. They even went as far as hand feeding a friend of mine and complimented him because he ate a lot. This is a very common compliment in Korea from my experience.

Learning how to eat samgyeopsal © Kim Jiho, KTO

Another time when we went out for dinner in Gangnam, I was having a stomach ache and didn’t feel like eating but instead opted to sit by my friends and wait for them. One of the old ladies working there asked my friend if I was sick, to which he conveyed, through broken Korean, that my stomach was hurting. The old lady sent me a concerned look and came back shortly after with a bowl of sticky, purple rice, which she said would cure the pain – and it did! They asked for a symbolic amount for the rice since they couldn’t just give away food for free, which is understandable. My friend was once again complimented for eating a lot and even given free coffee this time because the old ladies liked him so much!

Speaking of free food, I actually had some during my latest trip. I’d had a long day and decided to just eat dinner at a nearby food truck in Hongdae. While eating, the owner, an old lady, starting chatting me up, asking about my travels, and talking about her family. While talking, she kept spontaneously adding more food to my plate and, once I was about to leave, even packed a whole bag of different foods for me to bring back to the guesthouse I was staying at. There was also that one time I visited my favorite bakery with my boyfriend around closing time and they ended up giving us a little bag with free buns and cookies.

The stories so far have revolved around food but I have had many great experiences in the streets as well.

One time I went to Korea with my classmate and we had barely stepped out of the subway before a young
Korean guy stopped us, asked where we were heading, and explained the way to us before walking away.
Although I knew where we were heading, we ended up getting slightly lost and only realized this after
having carried my friend’s super heavy luggage up some stairs. Luck had it that we were supposed to go the
other way and thus had to carry it aaaall the way back down again. Out of absolutely nowhere, two small,

old ladies show up, swoop up my friend’s luggage, carry it all the way down without breaking a sweat, and
leave. Don’t mess with old Korean ladies, they are strong. This is not a joke.

The following year, my classmate and I moved to Seoul to study. On the day of moving into our dorm (which is btw located on a mountain), we once again found ourselves challenged by staircases while carrying my friend’s heavy luggage. This time she had actually packed two suitcases and was carrying one up the stairs when a middle aged man swooped in, carried her luggage up the stairs, and left. (What’s with Koreans and escaping after helping?) We headed for the dorm but got slightly lost (again) in the small streets until, miraculously, a man, who turned out to be a professor at our university, pulled up and offered us directions.

Another story I can think of at the moment is, once again, from the first time I went to Korea with my friend group. It was July night in Jongno when the heavens parted and my friends and I found ourselves stuck outside in a storm with sudden, heavy rain. We were running along the small houses to shield ourselves from the rain and passed by a small shop when none other than the owner of the hostel we were staying at recognized us. He grabbed some umbrellas from his friend’s shop and followed us back home to make sure that we got there dry and safely.

Chicken and beer, a classic Korean combination © Studio Frame Ju Minho, KTO

The next time I visited South Korea, I stayed in the same hostel with my classmate. At this point, our Korean was very basic and we had yet to learn the difference between being full or hungry. One evening when we came home, a business man from Busan, who we ended up calling James Bond, and the hostel owner were sitting in the common room. Upon seeing us, they asked us about the state of our tummies; were we hungry or not? Like I said, we still couldn’t tell the difference and with a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly, we ended up being wrong. This resulted in them buying us all a LOT of delicious chicken and introducing us to local ways of drinking and mixing alcohol. While we weren’t hungry, we ended up eating a lot anyway because it felt rude to do otherwise. That night we stayed up until 3-4am talking and joking around with them. “James Bond” promised us, in his tipsy state, to take us on a palace tour the next day. We ended up taking him up on that offer and had dinner with him and his daughter in the evening – but that is a whole other story for another day. (Sorry, I ended up talking about food again, didn’t I?)

Anyways! While I’d meant for this post to show how welcoming Korean people can be, I guess one of the other points about this blog post is that if Koreans want to share food with you, you should see this as a great opportunity to make some new friends and to learn about their culture! Personally, I have started many great friendships this way.

Come to Korea and try it out!


Koreansk gæstfrihed og vigtigheden af mad

Nogle af grundene til at jeg bliver ved med at komme tilbage til Sydkorea er koreanernes gæstfrihed, hjælpsomhed og nysgerrighed.

Selvfølgelig er der ubehagelige folk alle steder og selvom jeg har mødt et par stykker i Korea også, har størstedelen af mine møder med fremmede her været fantastiske. Jeg er personligt en stor fan af historier om mødes mellem mennesker af forskellige kulturer and i dagens indlæg vil jeg dele et par af mine egne.

Det første af disse øjeblikke jeg kan komme i tanker om er fra første gang jeg rejste til Korea. Jeg tog dertil med en flok venner og en dag tog vi ud og spise koreansk BBQ, også kaldet ”samgyeopsal” (삼겹살) i et nabolag ved navn Jongno i Seoul. Det er meningen at man selv skal grille sit kød og så spise det ved at vikle det ind i salat- eller mynteblade. Mine venner og jeg havde aldrig prøvet det før og det må ejerne af restauranten, et midaldrende ægtepar, have set for de kom over til os og viste os hvordan vi skulle grille kødet på den lille stengrill foran os. Selvom der var super travlt i restauranten den aften, blev de ved med at komme over til os og vende kødet. Da det var færdiggrillet, viste de os hvordan vi skulle vikle det ind i salaten og hvad man ellers kunne putte i. De endte endda med at håndfodre en af mine venner og komplimenterede ham for at spise meget, hvilket er et meget normalt kompliment at få i Korea.

En anden dag hvor vi var ude og spise i Gangnam havde jeg ondt i maven og havde ikke megen lyst til at spise. I stedet valgte jeg bare at sidde sammen med mine venner og vente på at de spiste færdigt. En af de gamle damer, der arbejdede der, spurgte om jeg var syg og en af mine venner fik forklaret hende, med sit meget basiske koreansk, at jeg havde mavepine. Den gamle dame sendte mig et bekymret blik og kom tilbage kort tid efter med en skål med noget klistret lilla ris som hun sagde ville hjælpe – og det gjorde det! De bad mig betale et symbolsk beløb (vi taler 6 kr.) fordi de jo selvfølgelig ikke bare kunne give mad væk gratis. Min ven blev endnu engang komplimenteret for at have spist meget og fik endda en gratis kop kaffe fordi de gamle damer så godt kunne lide ham!

Nu vi alligevel taler om gratis mad.. jeg fik faktisk noget under min sidste tur til Korea. Efter en lang dag med eventyr, besluttede jeg mig for bare at spise mad fra en af madboderne i det nabolag jeg boede i, Hongdae. Imens jeg stod og spiste begyndte en af ejerne af boden, en ældre dame, at snakke til mig. Hun spurgte om mine tidligere rejser til Korea og fortalte om sine sønner, der var flyttet til USA. Hun blev ved med at putte en smule mere mad på min tallerken. Da jeg sagde at det var tid til at gå hjem, lavede hun mig en hel pose med forskelligt mad som jeg kunne tage med hjem! Der var også en anden gang, første gang jeg boede i Korea, hvor jeg var inde hos min yndlingsbager med min kæreste lige omkring lukketid, hvor de også bare gav os en pose med kager og brød gratis.

Indtil videre har mine historier omhandlet mad men jeg har også bare gode oplevelser af bare at møde folk på gaden.

Da jeg engang tog til Korea med min klassekammerat havde vi knapt nok steget af metroen før en koreansk fyr kom op til os, spurgte hvor vi var på vej han, og forklarede os hvilken vej vi skulle gå før han bare gik igen. Selvom jeg godt vidste hvor vi skulle hen blev vi alligevel en smule forvirrede omkring hvilket retning vi skulle gå. Vi var lige gået op af super mange trapper med min klassekammerats MEGET tunge kuffert, da det gik op for os at vi gik i den forkerte retning og var nødt til at gå ned igen. Ud af den blå luft kommer så to små gamle damer, griber fat i min klassekammerats store kuffert, bærer den ned af trapperne som om det var ingenting og gik deres vej. Gamle damer her er seriøst stærke. Jeg joker ikke.

Det efterfølgende år flytte min klassekammerat og jeg så til Seoul for at studere. Den dag vi skulle flytte ind på vores kollegium (som for resten lå på et bjerg), måtte vi endnu engang tage kampen op med trapperne på metrostationen for at få vores kufferter op. Denne gang havde min klassekammerat ikke blot én men TO kufferter og var ved at bære den ene op ad trapperne da en mand kom, løftede hendes store kuffert op, og gik sin vej. (Hvad sker der for koreanere? Hvorfor får de bare deres vej lige efter at have hjulpet?). Efterfølgende gik vi mod kollegiet men blev væk igen indtil en mand, som viste sig at være professor på vores nye universitet, på mirakuløs vis fandt os og fortalte os hvilken vej vi skulle gå.

En anden historie jeg kan komme i tanker om er igen tilbage fra første gang jeg var i Korea og sammen med min lille vennegruppe. Det var en helt normal juli aften i Jongno da himlen delte sig i to og kastede et hav af vand mod os. Mine veninder og jeg stod pludselig uden for i regnen uden paraply eller anden måde at holde os tørre på. Vi løb tæt op ad de små huse for at få så meget læ fra regnen som muligt. Imens vi løb kom vi forbi en lille butik hvor ejeren af vores hostel tilfældigvis var. Han genkendte os, greb nogle paraplyer og løb med os hele vejen tilbage til hostellet for at sikre sig at vi kom sikre og tørre hjem under stormen.

Den næste gang jeg til tilbage til Sydkorea boede jeg på det samme hostel sammen med min klassekammerat med de tunge kufferter. På daværende tidspunkt havde vi studeret koreansk i 3-4 måneder så vores sproglige niveau var ikke super godt endnu. Det betød bl.a. at vi ikke kunne huske forskellen på at sige om vi var sultne eller ej hvis nogen spurgte. En aften da vi kom tilbage til hostellet sad ejeren og en forretningsmand fra Busan, som vi endte med at kalde ”James Bond,” nede i fællesrummet. Da de så os, spurgte de om vi var sultne hvortil vi med en 50% chance for at gætte rigtigt, gættede på det forkerte ord og kom til at sige ja. Det resulterede i at de bestilte os en HELT masse super lækker kylling og introducerede os til forskellige lokale måder at blande og drikke alkohol på. Selvom vi ikke var sultne, endte vi faktisk med at spise ret meget fordi vi havde dårlig samvittighed over at de bare gav os alt den lækre mad fordi vi havde sagt forkert. Vi blev oppe til 3-4-tiden om morgenen! Imens han var fuld.. eller måske nærmere fordi han var fuld, lovede ”James Bond” os en rundtur på de nærliggende paladser dagen efter. Vi endte med at tage imod hans tilbud og spiste aftensmad mad ham om hans datter om aftenen – men det er en helt anden historie som jeg gemmer til en anden gang. (Jeg endte vist med at snakke om mad alligevel.. hov).

Men altså! Selvom jeg havde tiltænkt dette indlæg at vise hvor gæstfri koreanere kan være, blev dette vidst også et eksempel på vigtigheden af mad i koreansk kultur. Du bør derfor se det som en fantastisk mulighed for at få nye venner og lære omkring kulturen hvis koreanere inviterer dig til at spise sammen med dem! Personligt har jeg fået en del venner på denne måde.

Kom til Korea og prøv det!

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