Eating in a foreign country can be difficult, especially with dietary restrictions. I don’t really have any other than being a wimp when it comes to spicy foods. I love to cook but at home in the country side with our tiny tourist grocery store there aren’t many options, especially options that won’t go bad before I use it all. As a result I probably haven’t been eating healthy. I mean I’ve got basics; pasta, bread, cereal, eggs, rice, peanut butter and jelly, but this is honestly the first time I’ve ever lived alone. In college I lived and worked in a Residential Hall so I ate most of my meals in the cafeteria. I didn’t cook often because I didn’t have my own kitchen or the right supplies to use the one in our common rooms. After college I lived with my Aunt and Uncle and cooked big meals for them and their kids. It’s really easy to not have to worry about food going bad when there’s a teenage boy in the house whose on every possible sports team offered at the school. Which puts me at the conundrum I’ve been at for over a year and still don’t think I’ve mastered. Which is what do you do when you’re living in the country side in another country with only the worlds smallest grocery store within walking distance?
- Make a lot of mistakes
- Waste a lot of food due to surprise mold
- Scour the internet for recipes for single people
- Eat a lot of bread
- Fight with lazy days where you don’t want to go to the store
- Look up translations of what things are
- Substitute for what you actually have available
- Realize by the time you get home and the time you have to go to bed means your options for down time are doing something relaxing or spending the whole evening cooking.
The first time I went to the store I bought a lot of basics that all the households I grew up in always had on hand. Flour, spices, salt, sugar, and the worlds largest bag of rice. Sadly a lot of it got buggy before I could use it. It’s really disturbing to open up flour and see it moving. Essentially the majority of people who live here drive to a grocery store further away and tourists who come in droves during the summer making the air smell of bbq are the majority of frequent shoppers at my local grocery store. They only tend to buy their weight in beer, soju, and meat. What the store has is limited and tends to be in bulk for families/groups on vacation. There’s not a lot of options of milk or cheese, not a big selection of vegetables and a lot of the produce is seasonal. Meaning I have to wait for the right season and stock up and then freeze it if I want some later.
The other big problem I have is that I’m one person and I don’t eat a lot and I kinda hate leftovers. During the school year I tend to eat a bowl of cereal, then lunch at school, which leaves only dinner as something that I have to be creative about. And thus I don’t go through food as quickly as I probably should. Plus in Korea pretty much everything molds before I have a chance to get to it or finish it. So instead of normal dairy milk 우유, I drink vegetable milk or soy milk, because it doesn’t go bad as quickly, I just have to be careful that it doesn’t get thick. I also freeze my bread and pop it in my toaster oven when I want to eat it, because I don’t go through bread quickly either. Eggs are difficult because I like having them on hand but I don’t use them nearly as fast as I need to and I’m not a huge fan of eggs on their own.
Despite all of this I have figured some things out. I’ve pretty much given up on vegetables at this point, other than carrots and cherry tomatoes, my grocery store sells most veggies in bulk. But hot dogs are easy, so is peanut butter and jelly or sweet pre-made curry with rice. I’ve figured out my favorite instant noodles, and have become a pro at basic pasta, salmon patties, and corn fritters.
During camp season (two weeks of summer and two weeks of winter) my basic cooking skills have to get level up beyond laziness. The cafeteria at school closes for break leaving me with an additional meal I have to figure out. A friend suggested a meal planning service in Seoul, that all their food is vegan. They’re called Sprout. You just select what you want by Friday, confirm your order via e-mail and then go to pick it up on Seoul.
Easy right? Well….
The first time I ordered through them it was a nightmare. I talked to the foreign teacher at the middle school whose diet is more restrictive than mine since they’re pescatarian and decided to put an order in for both of us. After all it had a lot of food I hadn’t had since my Aunt wanted to do a detox. Things like chia seeds, quinoa, and millet. With the combination of my order and the other teachers’ it came out to 7 days worth of food. Here’s where things got complicated. I decided to pick up the food in person, at their shop. Their hours for pick up at the time were only on Sunday or Monday night from 6-8pm. As a person who likes to be in bed before ten when I have work the following morning neither of these options put me at ease. But I did it. I met up with a friend on Sunday, prepared with a backpack and an unwavering belief that I am strong and can carry ridiculous amounts of groceries.
It was dumb. 7 days worth of food is not something that you can carry easily, especially if you’re foolish and go shopping and fill up your backpack before you even get to the store. Even more so if you have to lug 7 days worth of meals (plus extra because they were nice and threw in some free meals) over an hour home through trains in plastic bags.There was no comfortable way to carry the bags. It got to the point where I boarded the ITX home completely embarrassed from the angry red marks all over my arms and the rash looking broken capillaries from all the blood vessels that had busted under the skin. I’ll spare you the photo I took. For over a week my forearms were bruised and spotty which isn’t a good spot to be bruised when your students, small children, are constantly grabbing your arms to get your attention
Thankfully now they’ve changed it up a bit. They now have a company that for about $8 will ship the food anywhere in Korea and it will arrive either on Tuesday or Wednesday. Which is what I did this year for winter camp. (Especially since my apartment is being remodeled and I can no longer just cross the parking lot to get to my lunch.)
What all did I end up ordering? Every week they change-up their menu. Which is great because it’d get super boring if they didn’t. For my first round I got Tomato and Basil Chickpea Stew, Chickpea Koram Curry over brown rice, lentil and vegetable casserole with lemon and thyme, smoky lentil stew, white bean and garlic rosemary stew, lemon garlic brown rice lentil soup, Thai vegetable curry bowl, quinoa burrito bowl and chopped vegetable salad with an Italian vinaigrette. Those were what I ate for lunch and dinner for summer camp. I loved all of it except for the Thai vegetable curry bowl which was too spicy for me that I ended up giving to my coworker.
I also ordered breakfast which were vanilla chai chia pudding, cinnamon millet breakfast bowls with nuts, seeds, and raisins, dark chocolate millet breakfast bowl with nuts and seeds and shredded coconut, and a strawberry chia pudding. My coworker and I didn’t like these. There’s something about chia pudding first thing in the morning that my brain can’t comprehend. I wasted so much time trying to sleepily chew the millions of tiny seeds that it just go ridiculous. And the dark chocolate millet breakfast bowl was intensely chocolately but not sweet, it was too much. I ended up dumping them into my blender with fruit and milk and drinking them like smoothies.
Snack and dessert wise I ordered millet patties and carrot cake cupcake with cashew cream cheese, coconut fudge brownies, coconut cream cheesecake pie with chocolate drizzle and a reeces pieces peanut butter pie. The last two of which I left frozen and didn’t really defrost before eating but still really enjoyed. But out of all of them the carrot cake was utterly amazing.
This time I ordered much less. I had learned from previous experience that their breakfasts are just not my thing. Instead I ordered a ton of their lentil stews because I know those are what I love. They arrived in the middle of the afternoon at my school and I ran down to pick up the cooler. It wasn’t particularly clean, I think one of the desserts I decided to try melted (I now know why they’re frozen) and honey got over all the containers, but it’s nice not having to worry about lunch.
It can get a little pricy, about equal to eating out for every meal, but it’s also pre-made healthy vegan food delivered straight to your door. So I don’t mind ordering every once in a while. It means I’m not just surviving off of tuna mayo triangle kimbap for lunch all the time.