I travelled to South Korea this past May with my girlfriend, Olivia. She’s been taking trips abroad since she was young but this was a first for me, apparent by my clenched hands during the trans-Pacific flight, as well as my eagerness to take a picture of every second tree I saw.
I was ecstatic. Seeing the world was a yearning that I never fully understood until we arrived in Seoul. I wanted to see everything that Korea had to offer, but more than that, I wanted to learn everything that Korea had to teach.
We chose Korea because of Julia, a girl that Olivia’s family hosted back in Canada when they were both twelve. Julia’s family lives in Seoul and graciously offered to host us. It would be an understatement to say that Julia and her family made the trip as amazing as it was. They showed us inspiring nature, fascinating museums, and delicious food.
One thing I learned about eating in South Korea is that less is more: smaller plate, slower pace, slender waist. In North America, you plan what you eat and pile the estimate onto your plate. As you can see from the image to the left, Koreans do things differently. We had no plate for ourselves; instead, we had a grill inside the table, a dozen different sauces, and a pair of chopsticks. North America is capable of eating communally as well, but it’s not nearly as common.
Why does all this matter? Olivia and I were in South Korea for a little over a week, unable to communicate with the majority of the population, and yet the socio-cultural act of dining in South Korea overcame that obstacle. Eating and drinking is a personal affair, done with friends and family, with conversation and laughter. It’s a part of their lives and we were invited.
South Korea has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world at 4.6 per cent, compared to United States’ 35 per cent and Canada’s 25.4 per cent. Their social eating style may or may not be directly responsible, but I was searching for a lesson to take home and I believe I found one.
When we first arrived at Julia’s apartment, we were greeted by her siblings, William and Lucy. All smiles, they were scurrying around the table with small bowls, shot glasses, and fine cutlery. They had ordered fried chicken, a Korean favourite, and the aroma captured the room. Once we were seated, Julia’s father took out a bottle of soju, a potent alcohol. He handed each of us a shot of the clear liquid and then, smiling, raised his own glass:
“Welcome to South Korea.”
Cody Lirette is a man who likes a good cup of coffee. A barista by day and writer by night, Cody is currently working on a personal blog about health, nutrition, and literature. He is enjoying his second year in Algonquin College's Professional Writing program.