Saturday, August 2, 2014

School Lunch in Korea

In Australia (at least, back in the good old days when I went to school) students take their lunch to school. Not so in Korea! Students eat a hot meal which always consists of soup, rice and kimchi with some kind of meat side dish. The soup and meat side dish is often very spicy hot too. 

From what I have heard, students used to eat lunch in their classrooms (I can only imagine what a logistical nightmare that would have been every day), but it is increasing becoming the norm for schools to have a cafeteria where all students and teachers will eat their lunch. 

I work at a co-ed middle school, but at lunch boys and girls are segregated. Girls on the left, boys on the right. 

Students queue up (boys in one line, girls in the other) with the senior students getting bumped to the front of the queue. Even if junior students arrive before there are any seniors, they have to wait outside until it is their turn. 

Lunch ladies issue equal portions to all students. 

Teachers eat the same food as the students, but don't have to queue up with them. We have our own dining area in one corner of the cafeteria and can load up with as much or as little as we want. I took this picture below when my parents came to visit my school. The principal invited them to have lunch in the cafeteria. Thankfully the food wasn't obscenely spicy that day. 

More often than not, I'm not a fan of the lunch menu at school. But sometimes... if I'm lucky... it's not half bad. On these good days I take a photo of my lunch and excitedly send it to my wife. I enjoy sowing seeds of anarchy by putting my soup bowl on the wrong side of my tray. All the Korean teachers put their soup on the right, and the rice on the left. I like to live dangerously and do the opposite. I've been told Koreans don't like arranging their rice and soup like this because this is how they are arranged on the offering table when remembering their ancestors. 

Below is fried mandu, kimchi, seaweed soup, and fried rice with jajangmyeon sauce. The small bottle contains some kind of a good bacteria yogurt drink. 

Here we have mandu soup,  steamed broccoli, miscellaneous meat meatballs,  and rice. Kimchi was on the menu too, but I didn't serve myself any. 

And here we have tinned fruit, rice porridge with shredded chicken mixed in and some kind of pastry filled with corn and topped with cheese. Again, kimchi was on the menu too but I didn't serve myself any. 

In Korea, it is very very unusual to see a teacher enter the cafeteria alone. They always enter in groups of at least two so they don't have to eat alone. You will also likely see the principal and/or vice principal enter with an entourage of people behind them (always behind them). It is considered rude to leave before the other people you are eating with finish. If you are "busy" you can excuse yourself, just don't leave someone there to eat alone.  

Keep an eye out for other teachers you are sitting with putting their left-overs into the bowl. This is an indication that they have finished and are ready to go. You can do this too to signal you have finished and try and make lady chat-a-lot quickly finish her lunch. 

Once everyone has finished, head to the back of the cafeteria where there is a large scraps bin to empty your leftovers along with bins for your spoon, chop-sticks and lunch trays. Normally there will be a student volunteer* keeping an eye on things to make sure everything is stacked appropriately. They generally do a good job keeping it neat and orderly, but one day... this happened. Some poor student would have got reamed for this mess....

Grab a drink of water and, if the lunch was super spicy, try and wash some of the taste out of your mouth before cleaning your teeth**. 

*They don't volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts. They can log the volunteer hours which then can go on their highschool application form. All students are required to do a certain number of "volunteer" hours a year. 

**After lunch, everyone (teachers and students) will clean their teeth. 

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