Argh…I can’t eat that
You are now in a very different culture and with the different culture come new culinary experiences. The food typically eaten on a daily basis by Korean or Japanese people is obviously quite a bit different from what a typical Canadian, American, Australian, etc. might eat. You are going to have to try your best to get used to it because when you are with your Korean or Japanese friends, students or going to most restaurants, that’s what you will be eating.
To be honest, when I first landed in Korea in 2002, I was anyt
hing but an adventurous eater. I grew up in Eastern Canada and although had a family that was open to new food experiences, I personally wasn’t. As a young man, I was more of a Subway sandwich and pizza sort of guy and freely admit that I feared the unknown when it came to eating.
When I arrived in Korea, I knew nothing about Korean food. I suppose most people who go to Korea to teach find themselves in a similar situation. Luckily, I really enjoyed most of the new dishes introduced to me. I became a big fan of the food Korea had to offer. Generally, Korean food is spicy. A main spice used in many dishes is “gochu” which is a red hot pepper. Korean food also consists of a lot of vegetables. It’s definitely healthy, but for some, it can be a little too much. Some people don’t like the strong smell of the garlic and sesame oil while others tend to find it too spicy. I have met a few teachers in my time that had a history of stomach ulcers or were in general just sensitive and couldn’t handle the “heat” of Korean food.
Again, I took to it pretty quickly and enjoyed it. My advice to those out there who have never had Korean food and are coming to Korea is to be open-minded. You never know what something is like until you try it. Korean food is extremely healthy and packed full of flavor. It is also extremely affordable if not down right cheap to dine out at most restaurants in Korea. Many teachers will prefer to eat out most nights of the week as opposed to cooking at home because it can actually be cheaper to do so.
Japan also has some great food and aside from sushi and sashimi, I had basically no knowledge of the cuisine before I met my wife several years ago. Now I am absolutely in love with Japanese food. There was one stumbling block for me though, seafood. While growing up I never liked fish and since it is a major element of Japanese food, had to really try hard and learn to like it. Luckily I have, with the exception of eel.
Like Korean food, Japanese cuisine contains far more vegetables and a variety of them than a typical Western dish. I suppose what I love the most about Japanese food is the fact that in one typical meal you will find so many flavors on your plate.
Now eating out in Japan sadly isn’t as affordable as in Korea, but it’s always worthwhile. Since coming to Japan, I tend to eat most meals at home, but since my wife is Japanese, the vast majority of them are Japanese food.
Most people will enjoy the local “eats” when they come to Japan and Korea, but some may not. Again, my advice is just to give things a try. Even if a “mysterious” dish doesn’t look appealing, it may be extremely delicious.
If for some reason you just can’t wrap your plate or stomach around some of the local dishes, if you live in a larger city, there are plenty of restaurants that would probably cater to your needs. In Japan, there are Italian and Indian restaurants on almost every corner as well as fast food restaurants and pubs that serve “American” style food.
The same goes in Korea as well. You can find McDonald’s and Starbucks almost everywhere and family restaurants such as Bennigan’s and TGI Friday’s are very popular, although expensive. Many large supermarkets carry a variety of foreign food products and there are even specialty shops that deal specifically in food from abroad.
If you aren’t in a major urban area you are probably going to be out of luck when it comes to finding comfort food from home. You may just have to suck it up and learn to like what’s around you. To be honest, it’s not very hard!