Having moved abroad from the United States, there are aspects of life that take some getting used to. In South Korea, it's been an adventure trying new foods. As you can imagine, school lunches are different all over the world. Having worked in several schools in South Korea, I've got to sample many lunch options! Here's a glance into the world of school lunches in Asia.
In the public school system in South Korea, it's normal for the students and teachers to all eat together at the same time. We also eat the same meals and at the same tables. This fits in with the Korean culture, which is very communal.
There are a few things about Korean school lunches that tend to stay the same -- there is usually a soup and rice served with each meal. In addition to this, there is quite a variety with the types of foods that are served. In many Korean meals, banchan, or side dishes, are served. This may be kimchi, radishes, or a mixture of vegetables.
The lunch above features kimchi jjigae, a spicy soup. The lunch also features noodles, rice, kimchi, nori seaweed, cucumbers and onions in a spicy sauce, and mini pajeon, which are little pancakes made with batter, onions and other vegetables, and seafood.
In Korea, students work very hard. It's normal for students to attend class all day long and then to attend private academies well into the evening. Many do this every day. For those who don't attend private academies, some public schools offer night classes. My current high school does this -- and we also serve dinner at the cafeteria. Many of my students are at school from 8am to 10pm each day -- this is very different than American public school life.
This meal features jajangmyeon, which is a Korean Chinese dish that includes noodles with a sauce made from black beans. It's also served with rice, kimchi, and animal shaped chicken nuggets with a honey mustard sauce.
I love when we have fruit for lunch. On this school day, the meal coordinator placed an extra slice of watermelon on my plate. This meal is bokum bap, or fried rice. It's also served with egg drop soup, and a spicy salad made from onions, cucumbers, and apples.
Some of the school lunches include a bit of a Western touch. This lunch has a pasta side dish with potatoes in it. The soup featured in this lunch is dubu chigae, which includes zucchini, tofu, and spicy red pepper flakes. This is one of my favourite Korean soups.
Another lunch featured a side of french toast and a cheesy corn salad. The main entree is bibimbap, a collection of vegetables, rice, and gochujang, a spicy paste. When stirred all together, it's delicious!
At my high school, students take turns handling clean-up tasks. They collect the trays and utensils, and also get rid of trash.
As you can see, Korean school lunches are a bit different than most American school lunches, but there is always something delicious to be had. I look forward to lunch each day, because I like to guess what will be on the menu.