Sunday, January 06, 2008

Stew Culture

I sit down on the heated floor and position my legs so my knees are just slightly under the low wooden square table. I'm not great at sitting cross-legged for a long period of time, but I usually start this way. The rest of the family gathers around and picks up their chopsticks.

There isn't any space on the table top as it is filled with rice, meat, fish eggs, kimchi, vegetables and one big bowl of soup. The communal feast is a facet of Korean eating culture. The usually banter and dinner chat begins and, these days, the family has been studying English a lot, so much of the conversation inlcudes me.

The food is always so delicious, but as I sit there, I notice that so few meals I have eaten in Korea exlude a soup or stew. There is always rice, kimchi and soup. Asian cultures consume a ton of rice and Korea is no different. Kimchi is my favorite side-dish and everytime I open the refrigerator at home the strong and intoxicating smell bellows out and our place will smell of it for some time. However, the soup is a little more perplexing to me for some reason. I know that many clutures eat stews and soups, but it's not as common and the few cultures that do eat as much soup cannot claim the same heartiness as Korea soups.

This soup and stew culture is interesting, so after some unsuccessful sleuthing, I came up with an idea. I'm not sure that this is accurate because I'm not sure what Korean cuisine included pre-occupation.

Due to the general scarcity of food and the severe social stratification that exsisted on the peninsula, food was taken very seriously. There were and still are many rules dictating food consumption in regards to speed, quantity and demonstrative appreciation. With this in mind, it seems the best way to maximize a small ration of food, is to make a hot stew out of it.* Not too interesting really, but if the stew culture grew out of the Japanese occupation then it becomes a little more interesting because stew is so prevalent here now.

So I challenge myself to discover pre-occupation cuisine and compare the two.

* Carl Weathers discusses his appreciation for a good stew in Arrested Development.


Mom said...

Is this a table you have eaten at, George? I think you are right about the stew/soup determination. It is a relatively inexpensive way to make food last longer.

Oncle Jean said...

Are you ready to go to work as a reporter for the Food Network?