from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #21: Where’s the Beef?

with 15 comments

One thing that may be a contributing factor to my reluctance to go out and meet people is my finicky preferences in what I eat. Not that I’m a gourmand. While I can appreciate a prime rib au jus (I had plenty while working banquets at the Hyatt Regency), for the most part, rich people food doesn’t appeal to me. Give me fast food any day. People who know me know my love for McDonald’s. For a long time, I’ve wanted to film my own documentary answer to Supersize Me in exchange for a lifetime’s supply of McDonald’s.

People who know me also know that I don’t eat seafood. Period. Despite my ethnic and regional background, I can’t eat it. It makes me retch. Yes, that means fish in any form—cooked, steamed, pureed, raw and sliced thin like rice paper—any kind of crustacean, even seaweed in its non-cooked form. If it comes from the sea, I just don’t eat it. Too many times have I had a conversation like this:

Me: I don’t eat seafood.
Person: Really? What about shrimp?
Me: Nope. Last time I checked, shrimp still is seafood.
Person: What about lobster?
Me: Lobster is seafood, too.
Person: But it’s so good. What about fish?
Me: Fish is also seafood.
Person: What if it’s cooked?
Me: …
Person: Tuna?
Me: Take a second to think before you ask your next question. If it comes from the sea and you eat it, then it is seafood.
Person: But why?
Me: I don’t know. Perhaps I had an experience as a child so traumatic that it has been repressed via psychogenic amnesia causing an interference in the memory function of my hippocampus and, therefore, I cannot tell you why. Or maybe it’s because my daddy beat me with a mackerel as a child.

Of course, I just made up the last two sentences. I’m only capable of witticisms long after the topic has changed.

People often add, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” The thing is, I do know what I’m missing, and I’m not missing it one bit. I used to eat seafood. I used to prefer seafood, when I was a child. I choose not to eat it now because I don’t like it now.

In America, it was never a problem. God bless America, the land of the free and home of the opinionated. You’re giving up meat? You’re allergic to peanuts? You want to subsist on nuts and berries? No problem. It’s your life.

It is, however, a problem in Korea, land of the collective and home of many disgustingly creative seafood dishes. I’ve never seen such disdain as when someone asks me what I want to eat and my reply is “Anything except seafood.” My uncle has given me lectures on several occasions on how my preferences inconvenience everyone around me and I have a strong suspicion that several of my relatives and acquaintances were hoping that the Korean Army would be the catalyst for my renewed consumption of marine products.

It’s a legitimate hope, but they underestimate my stubbornness. In the Army, practically everything on the menu is fish. How they expect the Army to win a war with their soldiers subsisting on fish is a mystery to me. Fish is what’s for dinner… and breakfast and lunch. It’s fried or mashed together into fried cutlets for the entrée, mixed with gochujang or ground into an inedible, bony paste or slush for a side dish, and boiled in water for soup. We did have chicken or beef on occasion, particularly if there was a national scare of Avian Flu or Mad Cow Disease.

I refused to eat it. There were too many meals where I sat quietly, eating only rice and kimchi. No amount of hunger could make me stomach the fish in its various forms. I’d rather starve, and more often than not, starve is what I did. I am a rock that cannot be moved.

Now that I’m a free man, I’m free to indulge in my own tastes. My diet at the moment consists primarily of ramen, cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs.


15 Responses

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  1. hey there is a new series on the nyt that you should be reading. it is pretty good.


    September 8, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    • Is it the one you posted on Facebook? I read the article. It was good. Made me realize I need to focus more while revising.


      September 8, 2010 at 11:48 pm

  2. 김 comes from the sea and you eat that. Maybe you should just tell people you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish. I never get those vegetarians who ONLY eat fish, as if it weren’t still an animal.


    September 9, 2010 at 12:13 am

    • If I were a vegetarian, I’d probably die of starvation or complications related to malnutrition. Could I be a vegetarian who ONLY eats meat?


      September 9, 2010 at 1:05 am

  3. Ramen, cheese sandwiches, hot dogs… you OK with budae-jjigae?

    Kevin Kim

    September 9, 2010 at 2:39 am

    • Definitely. Those three things are on my list because those three things are in my fridge/cupboard. These days, when I make ramen, I add hot dogs and cheese to give it that budaejjigae feel.


      September 9, 2010 at 7:47 am

  4. I have never been into eating fish either. Same goes for Bruce Willis and Sarah. It’s just something none of us liked, so we never ate it.

    I can eat it fried, but I can eat anything fried.


    September 9, 2010 at 5:01 am

    • Fried fish has the potential for disaster. First, the smell. Very few things can stink up a household like frying fish. Second is the way they do it in Korea. Just sticking a fish in the fryer and putting it on the table is less than appetizing. Regardless, any way you prepare it, I don’t like fish.

      Bruce Willis. Ha.


      September 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

  5. Well, this is the first time I’ve heard of an asian person not liking seafood. I personally love it and I actually think I don’t get enough of it in the Army. Whatever fish that is served is served like shit. Then again, pretty much any meal in the Army is shit.


    September 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

    • I was skin and bones in the Army. As far as I’m concerned, chow in the Korean Army doesn’t qualify as food.

      It’s sad, but one thing I did enjoy was Gunderia. The patties were small and tasteless, but at least it was food that came in a form I was accustomed to.


      September 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      • Gunderia sounds like a venereal disease. Yikes.

        Kevin Kim

        September 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm

  6. Gunderia is a portmanteau of gundae(Army) and Lotteria. It’s a hamburger, in the loosest sense of the word. The Army is the only place people will put jam and potato salad inside a hamburger. At least I hope so.

    And yes, it does sound like an STD.


    September 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  7. Have you seen how Koreans eat? Guys in my unit put jam, the patty and the “salad” (veggies drenched in mayo) all in the same burger. I’ve also seen guys dip their boiled egg in the jam as well.


    September 18, 2010 at 8:43 am

    • You guys don’t call it “Gunderia” these days?

      I don’t remember getting boiled eggs with our meals but I don’t really like boiled eggs, either.


      September 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm

  8. We called it Gunderia during Basic but guys in my unit just call it “빵.”
    They’d be like, “What’s for dinner today?”


    October 3, 2010 at 10:37 am

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