When teaching in South Korea, its possible to find healthy eating options when dining out, especially in larger cities such as Seoul, Daegu, and Busan; however, it can be quite difficult to find healthy, specialty restaurants in smaller cities. Fortunately, Korean food is generally a healthy mix of fresh vegetables, meat, and rice or noodles. However in many traditional restaurants, the problem lies within the meat. The meat will usually be a low quality, fatty pork that, while tastes delicious, might cause problems for those who are on a diet. The pork is so ubiquitous in traditional restaurants that often the best bet for vegetarians or those who are on a strict diet is to stay in and cook or visit an exclusively vegetarian restaurant.
Cooking, or should I say grocery shopping, in Korea does present some challenges though. The biggest obstacle is finding the right ingredients. Once again, this is not a problem for those big city dwellers where expat stores are abundant. For those of us living in small cities though, the surest option for grocery shopping is huge department stores such as Emart or Lottemart. While it can be an adventure to find the proper ingredient in these gigantic stores and a quick shopping trip could easily morph into a long one, you will more than likely be able to find what you are looking for or at least an appropriate substitute. If you still have no luck, you can always browse expat shopping websites such as http://english.gmarket.co.kr/ or http://www.ezshopkorea.com/ that will deliver right to your door.
One of Korea's largest retailers, Lotte Mart
Fortunately, the healthy food movement is catching on in Korea. Since I started teaching English in South Korea, I've seen more and more stores and restaurants are offering organic, local foods. The movement is just beginning to catch on here in Jeju and I see more restaurants offering slow-cooked foods and vegetarian options. Farmer’s markets are also a big part of the food culture here as well. These are the best places to buy fresh fruits, produce, and seafood. Jeju has a special market every five days where people from all over the island come to sell and buy locally grown products.
Once the ingredients are bought and in your kitchen, the process of cooking is fairly similar. Chances are your apartment will be fitted with a gas stove and that will be your only method of cooking. So do not plan on doing any baking while you are here unless you buy a small toaster oven, but even then, your baking options are limited. Also finding space in your kitchen will be a challenge so you often have to get creative when preparing meals.
As a teacher in Korea, you will probably find yourself eating out just as much as cooking. They both offer their advantages and disadvantages, but, if you want to eat healthy and be in total control of your diet, cooking is your best option. If you have any questions about food in Korea, don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
Adam Montgomery is a 25-year old teacher at the Chungdahm Branch on Jeju. He has been teaching in Korea for six months. When he is not teaching, he enjoys exploring the wonders of Jeju and Korea.