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11 April 2005
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KLB - Shopping When You're Hungry



My mother always said don't go shopping when you're hungry. Sure enough, she was right. Famished, I went to Walmart the other night and decided upon making a western dinner: fried chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh rolls.

I've never seen gravy here and was shocked to find it at Walmart, two lone cans of Campbell's Chicken Gravy sitting inconspicuously on the bottom of the soup shelf. That's what gave me to idea to make the dinner, actually. Then I decided I wanted premium butter - well, non-Korean butter anyway - for the potatoes and rolls, so I picked up a small tub of Australian Bega for a whopping $8. The can of asparagus was also expensive.

I got everything for dinner but kept throwing pricey western things in the cart and ended up with hardly any groceries and a bill for $50. I should have just bought a sandwich.

Anyway, I started getting excited about the meal. Julie's never eaten a chicken dinner of this style in her life, something that if my grandfather found out would probably cause him a coughing spasm and severe chest pain (in addition to being a master chef, he's 80 and smokes 4 packs/day). It even surprised me. Wait until she tries mashed potatoes and gravy and toasted rolls and butter and asparagus!

So, I made the dinner. You might guess where this is going. Julie, though she tried her best to indulge my enthusiasm, really didn't enjoy the meal. At first this bugged me. How can she not love this food? I felt let down. Then I remembered the first time I ate Korean food, kimchi chigae (kimchi soup), and how strange it was to me and the pressure I was under to express enjoyment and gratitude. I understood how she felt. I was also frustrated myself with the chicken dinner. It was good, but it didn't taste nearly as scrumptious as I had longfully anticipated.

Like Julie said later, all the butter and gravy with the mashed potatoes and rolls and the greasy chicken felt too thick and heavy. I agreed. It did seem too much. My stomach hurt right after from the shock of it all. "Do Americans eat like this every day?" Julie wondered. I thought back to my life before Korea - long before kimchi and rice - to when I ate meat and potatoes or some type of fast-food crap every day. "Yes, unfortunately we do. And I can't remember how I could have, now that I think about it."

Of course this wasn't the first time I realized my taste in food has severely changed (for the better I must say). When I went home two years ago I found myself laboring to eat the big meals my grandfather prepared every night like clockwork - always some thick kind of meat, ham, steak, hamburger, chicken and then, of course, potatoes and bread and butter - butter, always butter, and/ or gravy on everything. Having gotten stuck there for some months after breaking my arm and being unable to return to Korea - I slowly found myself re-adapting to that diet (not to mention gaining weight), but I still longed for simple Korean dishes.

Sometimes I would venture downtown, precariously driving my 5-speed Honda Civic one-handed down icy streets, to the Korean store and get some groceries to cook. While my mother enjoyed most of what I prepared - especially mandu guk (dumpling soup), my grandfather would have none of it, and seemed to take serious offense at the offer. He would let us eat and then cook something for himself. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks, I'm afraid," he would repeatedly say.

Well, as I was saying, the chicken dinner failed miserably and I won't be eating the likes of it again, probably, until I go home. Now, don't get me wrong - I still enjoy a good pizza and the occasional burger and steak. But for the most part I'm happy with my Korean diet of rice, soups and vegetables.

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