I recall back in 2001, I took the plane for the first time to Korea. From France, it is quite a journey. You have to go to airport, check in, jump into the plane and then enjoy the flight until you land in this interesting country in the far East! It is a solid 15 hours’ trip door to door. I was seated in business class for the first time, luckily I was upgraded for my first travel. I enjoyed my discussion with my neighbor in the plane, he said – “you will miss for two weeks your steak tartare and French fries, in Korea it is all about Kimchi”. Kimchi? I struggled to recall this name at the beginning of my trip however after two weeks in Korea I never forgot it!
Most of my French colleagues who travelled with me complained about the food in Korea… “it will be difficult weeks for our stomach…”. I was quiet and thought : « how one can discover a country if you cannot eat local… » Well I said to myself let’s check about the Korean food…
After reaching out the hotel at the COEX exhibition center in Seoul, our distributor picked us up for a restaurant. Korean people are like French people; they really enjoy the food and spend a lot of time to eat and discuss during lunch and dinner. Also, there is a tradition to raise a glass and say “Kampai” with your friends, a way to celebrate and open the lunch. If you travel there, you will drink liters of beer and get a lot of Kampaï, so be prepared 🙂 !
After removing our shoes, we started the lunch. In Korea, your host will do the very best he can to make you comfortable by offering you a bite on all Korean delights. They will stuff you until you cannot eat. It is fantastic to see at a point no tiny surface anymore on the table, your host will cover the whole table with dozens of small plates. Most of the plates are made of Celadon a green Korean ceramic, really beautiful!
Some of my colleagues really struggled to eat, you can notice on their face the challenge to eat these dishes. At a point, the famous kimchi arrived, it is a kind of fermented cabbage, really spicy. In Korea, the Kimchi is recognized for its positive health benefices. I enjoyed it as well as all other dishes, I tasted everything. The Korean were a little bit surprise to witness a French guy eating everything like them. It definitely helped to open the discussion and facilitated the beginning of trust between us. It was a fantastic experience for me!
A small tip, if you travel to a country you do not know, do not go first to the museum, join your hosts or friends at a restaurant, you will learn a lot on their culture and life 🙂 !
Alexandre R Rio.