School Food in South Korea
School lunch in America was something I never looked forward to when I was in grade school. You all remember: the soggy pizza, the questionable fruit cup, the cold canned vegetables, and the only thing I always had during lunch was the small pint of chocolate milk. On good days we would have fresh salad, a pudding cup, or even mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy, which to this day is still my favorite school meal.
Thankfully, the disappointing lunches stopped in high school, when off-campus lunch became an option!
Across the world in South Korea, I, the fully grown adult, was pleasantly surprised at the lunches offered at the elementary school I work at. Instead of the foam or plastic trays that I received as a child, students are given metal silverware and metal trays with five compartments. As a teacher, I also received a small metal bowl.
The cafeteria itself looks like the standard elementary school cafeteria with lots of long tables, the food line, and the dishroom.
Teachers jump into line whenever they are ready to eat and are served by the cafeteria workers. The serving size is relatively the same as what the students are served. But as teachers, we can go up and get seconds (or thirds depending on the meal).
Students sit in rows with their classes inside the cafeteria, and homeroom teachers sit with their students while faculty and supplemental teachers (English, science, PE, etc.) sit at a table at the front of the cafeteria.
I kept track of my lunches for my first week as a teacher. The good, the bad, and the ugly of them all. Enjoy pictures and my descriptions of each meal!
The First Week of Meals
Amazing First Impressions
This was the meal on my VERY first day, a common theme of rice, kimchi, and soup. However, the interesting additions to this meal were the teriyaki halibut (top left) and egg bake (top middle). Being the first meal, I had very high expectations and boy, was I not let down. The star of the show was actually the spicy pork bone soup (bottom right). I later found out that there is a restaurant that is very popular in my city for this soup (catch a review soon). Overall, this was a great first meal and I happily cleared the plate.
This meal was also pretty great; it had mixed salad with vinaigrette (top left), homemade chicken strips and barbeque sauce (top middle), and staples kimchi and rice (top right and bottom left), and a soup. I never did find out what type of soup it was. It did have a lot of vegetables and tasted like seafood. My favorite thing about this meal was the fact that the chicken strips were homemade. I didn’t expect that at all. The cute lunch lady made sure I had an extra one. The barbeque sauce is still something for me to get used to. It's spicier than the barbeque I was so used to back home.
Vegetables and Spicy Pork
This meal did not impress me like the other two did, but it was still delicious. My fellow teachers said to expect meals more like this from now on. I appreciated the straightforward answers, so what was in this tray today? From top left going clockwise, spicy pork and vegetables, kimchi and some root vegetables that you would commonly find in bibimbap, a box of orange juice, seaweed soup, and mixed grain rice. This all tasted familiar and comfortable for me who was starting to miss those Western flavors.
Homemade Chicken Nuggets Return
Okay, I know I called them chicken nuggets, but they were more like what you would find at a chicken and beer restaurant (top middle). In the top left was a slimy vegetable that I could not find the name of, but I thought they tasted delicious. I did not eat the soup that day because I was not adventurous enough.
Wait… Crab Cakes?
Friday came along and I thought the Monday meal was my favorite but I lied, Friday was actually my favorite, from the chicken soup to the deep fried crab balls with spicy sauce. Those beautiful deep fried balls of goodness were in the top middle pan, and with them was something so simple but so delicious; chopped green and white onions tossed in chili sauce. I cleared this tray and even got more of the crab balls to snack on at my desk in a little Dixie cup.
Overall, I was so impressed at how fresh everything was, and how much of the food was made onsite in the elementary school. Were there days I was not sure how to feel after eating? Absolutely. Were there days that I just craved a Western-style lunch? Of course. However, these meals not only cover every food group you need for a healthy meal, but they also try to always use fresh ingredients to ensure that students (and teachers) have enough fuel to get through the rest of a very long day.
Pictures and Photos by Amber Miley