Fish Appreciation – South Korea, Asia

Some things begin as completely bizarre, and are later relegated to
the boring state of "normal".
For example, there was a time when I would be surprised by a fish head popping up in my clear broth soup that tasted
nothing like fish. Its accusing sideways glare always made me want to say: I know buddy, I don’t understand either, I agree. You deserve
better.

Steamed seasoned fish

Steamed seasoned fish

If I had been asked what the difference between an octopus and a squid was, I doubt I would have been able to give an accurate definition. These creatures have since become such a daily part of my life, I eventually realised I was being impolite to my source of sustenance, not knowing exactly what I was eating. I now know a squid has "a slender body and a pair of rounded or triangular caudal fins, varying in length from 10–15 centimeters to 18–24 meters". (Thankfully, I have only ever had to ingest the 10-15 centimeter kind – not sure what I would do with a 24 metre-squid leg.)

An octopus, in contrast, has "a soft, oval body and eight sucker-bearing arms, living mostly at the bottom of the sea". A dictionary definition, however, never quite manages to give life to the act of eating squooshy "sucker-bearing" octopus arms. Strangely enough, eating fermented cabbage mixed with spices on a daily basis has gone on a little tour through my psyche, moving from bizarre to "ordinary" to "what am I going to do one day without it"?

The experience of eating fish beside "the natives" is in itself a rather unique experience. Let’s take today, for instance. There are only eight teachers at school; lunch was ordered from a take-away Korean restaurant. When it arrived we were called down to the staff room where we sat squashed on couches facing each other, elbows tucked in tightly, leaning over our huge bowls of a Korean noodle dish (I apologised to yet another octopus) on the table in the middle. It is at this moment one has to make that great life decision that today is seen only on TV – lions have just killed their prey. Speed is everything.

Korean Eating Etiquette

It is completely acceptable to suck your food toward you from your bowl with a force that can only be honed over years and years of practice. Do not under any circumstances pick up your bowl to make eating a less messy affair. This may only happen once you have finished your noodles
and would like to drink the remaining juice. Conversation is out, but you are welcome to sniff and snort as frequently, and as loudly, as you like. A couple of loud slurping sounds is a great way to show you are really appreciating the flavor of the food. The louder you manage to do this, the more delicious the food is. And so emerges the thought – perhaps, when ingested in this way, the fish doesn’t feel so unappreciated after all. Perhaps his glare is aimed purely at me for reflecting so little "interest" in eating him.

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