Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I can still remember the first time I tried a spicy Korean dish, it was kimchi. I had been in Korea for nearly a week when my coworkers offered to take me to a small Korean restaurant known for its “bibim naengmyeon.” Once seated, I began to carefully inspect the kimchi that was in a small round side dish placed in front of me. My Korean room mate had been keeping something bearing close resemblance to it in our refrigerator and its odor filled the entire room whenever one of us opened the door. I would’ve taken the time to examine it had I been able to tolerate having the refrigerator door ajar long enough.
My Korean colleague urged me to give it a try, and so I did -ignoring his warning that “it might be a little spicy.” The instant the kimchi entered my mouth; sweat began to bead up on my face and neck. My complexion turned pitch-red and I called out, “Water!” I couldn’t understand how people could put their mouths through such torture on a routine basis. I also recall having thought that if my parents had served me spicy food since childhood then perhaps I would have become used to it, but what if I now no longer possess the ability to adjust? After all, I had heard that the majority of Korean food was spicy; hence I had spent the week leading up to that experience fasting on bread, small sandwiches, and milk. I wasn’t complaining, as some do, I was genuinely concerned.
Non-spicy eaters often say “spices were invented to offset the taste of bad food,” and complain that adding excessive spices to food renders one unable to appreciate the quality, or distinguish more subtle flavors of other ingredients. Meanwhile, in response spicy food eaters quip that those who do not have the courage to try spicy food are bland themselves, too weak to endure the initial sessions of mouth burning in order to enjoy the pleasure that follows, when the brain releases endorphins to ease the pain.
Eventually, after losing a few kilograms while contemplating, I opted to undergo the suffering necessary to adjust my threshold for spicy food, and I am glad I did. A taste for spicy food opens up a great deal of additional possibilities for culinary experiences to be had here. Nonetheless, if you’re reluctant to do as I did then there is no need to worry. There are several Korean foods to enjoy that are not very spicy, and restaurateur’s much to my dismay, usually modify the ingredients for non-Koreans without asking. So, rest assured if you don’t like spicy food then you will not starve during your stay in Korea. However, if you have ever thought about trying spicy food, then Korea is a great place to give it a try