March 7, Emart Madness

I stayed up late to finish “Crash Landing on You” and then even later to cry my eyes out.

See, I do have an emotion!

When I woke up this morning the finale came back to me and I was sad all over again. I think it’s especially effecting because I just started volunteering with North Koreans and a life where the “Montagues & Capulets” really exist and likely will for some time is crushing.

I read some silly internet things to make me feel better and was struck with a craving for bagels. And since my quarter sized kitchen is empty, an Emart trip was in order.

The streets were eerily deserted but I’m quite sure this is because Korea is a country that doesn’t awake before 10am and not because of post apocalyptic virus conditions.

Following that logic, when I arrived at Emart it turns out that it doesn’t even open until 10 AM. So I waited with a group of shoppers, some of whom were hoping to buy masks until the manager came out to tell them that there were no masks add to visit the post office instead. Once the gates finally opened, I headed straight to the bagel section. But because of my proactiveness, of course the bagels had not been packaged yet. I spent an hour wandering around the store and impressed the banchan ladies by choosing four side dishes for the “4 for 10,000” deal. I think they were mostly impressed that a foreigner was buying side dishes at all. Hey, I’ll have you know I have a stamp of approval for my Koreanness from first graders!

(Another point for my Korean transformation is that last week I took the mattress topper off of my bed to wash it. I’ve been sleeping on what are basically box springs ever since and I love it. Firmer IS better for you back!)

After about my fourth time walking past the bagel stand, the lady took pity on me and asked what type I was waiting for. She immediately packed it up and laughed a little while handing it over. We stan bagel lady.

I knew that even though my basket wasn’t overflowing, I would be paying a hefty price for my groceries (living in the city with the world’s sixth most expensive groceries). But I knew I’d have to pay the price if I didn’t want to return to scrounging for frozen dumplings at the Chinese market every two days.

The total came to 78,000 won (about $65).

I’m trying to buy smart but damn if that didn’t hit me right in the wallet. Suppose I’ll just cry into my bagels.

So you have some idea, this is usually the type of Korean food I make at home. Rice, protein, and side dishes. Meat is expensive and these days I try to eat less anyway so my protein is often canned tuna (never forget my love for tuna triangle Kimbap) or fish. As I live by a Chinese grocery store, cheap frozen dumplings are easy to find. For premade side dishes, 반찬 banchan, I buy from Emart. Pro tip: get full sized seasoned seaweed and the cut it yourself to safe money and space, instead of buying snack sized seaweed in multiple plastic boxes.

From top left: marinated shrimp, anchovies with cashews, marinated vegetable, lotus root marinated in soy sauce (I LOVE this but it’s expensive), rice, 족발 pig foot

From top left; kimchi dumplings, fish pancake (I wanted to use the last dregs of freezer burn fish and so mixed it with red pepper paste and soy sauce then savory pancake mix and cooked), seasoned seaweed, tuna (mayo and soy sauce), rice

Before you close your mind and say ew, know that Americans would go nuts for pig feet. You can get it without bone like I did. It’s marinated in a sweet sauce and cooked to be very tender. The cut of meat is also fatty and extremely flavorful. If you weren’t told it came from a foot, you wouldn’t know.

If you’re a Western person reading this, you’re probably unfamiliar with a seafood palate. Because Korea is a peninsula, there are a lot of seafood dishes and seafood side dishes. I really love the small marinated shrimp and anchovies, especially the ones that are made to be a little sweet.

These meals tend to be between 500 and 700 calories and are extremely filling. I am a rice convert: it’s easy to make and easy to digest while also being filling. I can’t think of a 500 calorie Western meal that does the same. (Looking at your Subway).

And eating with chopsticks makes me confront each bite individually: it’s really difficult to finish a meal quickly (unless you’re the office staff).

Contrary to common belief among my coworkers, I do not eat hamburgers or sandwiches or pasta most days when I’m at home. I usually eat some sort of rice-based meal or dumplings. When in Rome.

There’s something that just feels wrong about finishing a meal in ten bites. My breakfast tends to be Western, though: it’s hard to imagine eating fish stew at 8am but traditionally the East doesn’t have a separate breakfast category.

And a fun update from Friday:

I forgot to mention that one man in full protective equipment came into my classroom Friday afternoon, said something in formal langauge, then proceeded to blast the room with what I assume is disinfectant.

A bit sus if you ask me.

It was over almost before it started but I was left in a cloud of alcohol spray. Does this mean I’m also safe from the virus?

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