July 11, 2013
By Shawn Rhoads, Hye Young Jung, and Jaemyeong Lee
Coming to Korea, most of us only ever heard the song “Gangnam Style” without really knowing what the Gangnam Style actually is. Perhaps a few of us learned in our pop culture classes that the song was in fact more than just a catchy beat and dance craze, that it was actually social commentary on Korea’s recent excessive attraction to designer brands and superficiality. However, there’s nothing like an actual visit to the district itself to experience for ourselves that unless you’re ready to spend your entire week’s allowance on a single article of clothing, there’s not much to Gangnam. Nevertheless, we had many cherished memories in the underground shops in the subway station.
Despite having been in Seoul for a week, our first hanshik (traditional Korean meal) didn’t come until Friday, and there couldn’t have been a better place for it than San-dul-hae near Olympic Park. For less than $15 a person, we were able to enjoy all of the banchan (side dishes) and bap (rice) that are included in all traditional Korean meals. The ssal (uncooked grain) was cooked in a stone pot unlike other modern rice cookers, so the bap was particularly unique from all the other bap we had eaten. When Korea had a royal family, only the king had the privilege of enjoying this type of dish.
Korean eating culture is very different from that of the West. There is no main dish and everyone shares from the same set of side dishes. We thought it was interesting that there was everything – fish, meat, vegetables, grains. While there are many different mannerisms that come with Korean dining – such as using chopsticks, receiving with two hands, and eating on the maru (floor) – there are many similarities that Westerners practice when eating meals with their families. Similarly to Korea, everyone helps themselves to the different dishes at the table and they are fed until they are full. However, when dining out, each person usually orders their own meals which differs from the communal ways of Korea.