Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea

The Mystery and Allure of Korean (frozen) Food

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Nowadays it’s been getting pretty chilly here. Ahjummas be rocking their puffy hiking jackets, the plague is slowly spreading at my school, and I got this icebox where my bathroom used to be. Yeah, winter though.

Today, boys and girls, I will start off with an earnest confession. I can’t cook for shit. I realize this as I rotate between instant jjajjangmyeon (black bean noodles), frozen dinners and/or potstickers when I’m too tired to go out and get food. Part of the reason why I don’t like making food here is because I don’t have any counterspace in my matchbox kitchen to prepare anything. My fridge is proportionately tiny, and dishes are a pain. It usually ends up being a lot easier, faster and cheaper to go out and buy food.  But, being the responsible adult that I am, I usually have some backup frozen food in the freezer in case I can’t make it out one day. And let me tell you, my freezer is packed.

When I’m shopping for frozen food, I look at the back first. Why? To see if I can understand the pictures in the directions. No pictures? Yeah, I’m going to pass on this one. Usually the directions have a little microwave drawing with the number of minutes inside the microwave, so I like to pick those up. They also have a picture of a snowflake next to it for some reason…?

So I guess I’ll start off with one of my more successful dishes: Potstickers. I used to make these a lot when I was in college. They are little crescents of golden, lightly-fried goodness, filled with meat, veggies and glass noodles. I think there is another faster way to make these, but I make them the way I used to, boiling them for a little, straining, and then frying them a little to get the outside crispy. I usually make a whole bag at once so I have some leftovers for the next day.

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And here is another frozen food success story: bacon spaghetti carbonara. Pasta with little bits of bacon in a delicious cream sauce. In one package I found enough pasta and sauce to make this twice (score!) and the directions weren’t difficult either. Thank you so much packaging-drawing-dude, your clear drawings saved my dinner.

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And now I take you to the dark side of Korean frozen food. The experiences where I’m like “WOW. I really really need to learn how to cook because I don’t want to experience that ever again.” For this segment I take you back to the picture at the very top (Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait).

It’s a pretty unassuming dish on the surface – looks like some kind of sweet and sour pork? Chicken maybe? Looks a little spicy but whatever, right? After microwaving it for a few minutes it smells AWESOME. Ravenously hungry, I take a bite of it without looking and “crruuuunnch.” Yeah, that’s…cartilage. And skin. No meat. I take a closer look at the strangely shaped pieces and…they’re chicken feet. De-boned, spicy CHICKEN FEET. I was hungry and didn’t have any qualms about eating it, but as far as dinners go it was painfully spicy and pretty unsatisfying.

This unfortunate experience leads me to Exhibit B (below). There was one time when I was being “creative” with my dinner. I made a frozen dinner and it was 80% stew-like liquid and 20% meat with cubes of what I think was supposed to be pickled radishes. So I made some instant jjajjangmyeon and put the solids of the stew thing on top. This is what happened:

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Oh, God the horror. The meat was chewy, half bone, and super spicy. Almost cried/had a nosebleed. And the cube things that were supposed to be pickled radishes were cubes of tasteless water with a crunchy frozen center. The jjajjangmyeon, made in a hurry, was a little crunchy too. This was the meal that inspired me to get my butt in gear and start trying to actually cook. Has that happened yet? Nope. But you’ll be damned sure that I’ll post about it and take tons of pictures of it like it’s my newborn child.

And so, to get rid of the bad taste from the last photograph, I leave you all with a picture of the most beautiful tonkatsu (pork cutlet) that you’ve seen in your life. Some day soon I will try to figure out this whole cooking thing. Meanwhile, I will gladly brave any kind of cold to get me some of that:

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Ooooh baby.

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Author: Natasha

26, student of law but still a dreamer. currently living in chicago.

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