Published: April 15th 2011April 15th 2011
Stamina, stamina, stamina, who's got the stamina? One thing you hear continually when you're living in Korea is talk about stamina. There's this real bravado when it comes to men being men. It doesn't seem to matter what you eat it's all good for the same thing, precious stamina. I guess you can never really have too much to use at your hearts content but I often find myself wondering if these claims of stamina are just some old superstition to get people to eat some of the foods.
Personally I really enjoy a lot of the food here. In fact in about 2 hours I'm going to be sitting down and eating one of my favorite meals with Jen. A rich soup of boiled pork spine that falls off the bone like pulled pork in a tasty brothe with potatoes and other various vegetable goodies. It's one of the best foods going over here, although I've heard no reports on it building stamina.
With all the delicious foods that I've found there are also some that can be literally hard to stomach. Bundaegie comes to mind. A group of boiled silk worm larvae that is supposed to be good for something. I personally find it works out my abs with each gut wrenching convulsion I get when I pass one of the old ladies boiling up a fresh pot of the stuff.
Kimchi is one that I'm actually grown to enjoy. It did take a year but I eventually learned to enjoy the sharp taste of fermented cabbage. Since it comes with any meal you get, breakfast, lunch, or dinner it's easy to get used to seeing what looks like a pile of wilting cabbage dyed red with pepper paste. The smell is another thing. The first thing you'll notice after you see it is the smell. It's very pungent and smells bitter. I often wonder what the first people who made kimchi thought when they brought it to their gullet. My thoughts are that it went a bit like this;
Sniff, Sniff "Uuugghh, I think this stuff went bad. How long did you leave it in the container?"
"3 months, why?"
"Well Lee, because it smells like embalming fluid."
Sniff, Sniff "Well I'm not throwing it out, I don't want to waste it."
"You're such a tight ass, you know that."
"We'll just tell people that it's good for their stamina and gives them all kinds of health benefits."
"That might work actually. Alright put it on a plate and we'll go bring it to the picnic. And don't forget to grab the Bundaegie."
Let me reiterate that I do like Kimchi. I eat it daily for lunch, as I said it comes with every meal, but it does stink, to most western noses at least. The other day Jen came home from school and said that her and some of her teachers were talking about food. One of her coworkers stated that she didn't like Thai food because it stunk. This immediatly struck me as kind of odd because at the moment I was making a delicious pan seared prawn and pineapple red curry and had just added the pineapple and coconut milk. As Jen was telling me this tale our apartment was being filled with that delicious scent of southeast Asian cuisine. We then had the same thought, what about kimchi. She liked the smell of kimchi.
Saying that Thai food smells horrible and kimchi smells good is like locking yourself up in an air tight one room cabin for a weekend. Having that room quickly fill with the funk of stale beer farts and sweaty feet and then complaining at the end of the weekend, once you've stepped outside to tall evergreens and mountain springs, that the air smells funny.
Kimchi is said to have all sorts of health benefits other than stamina. The big claim being that it helps to prevent cancer. As with most things there's another side. I read an article that said kimchi could be the reason so many Koreans develop stomach ulcers although high levels of stress could also be to blame. But I'm getting off subject. The point I wanted to make is that if you go and eat with a group of Koreans they will most likely nudge the plate to you and say with a full mouth of food, "Kimchi, good for stamina!" before thrusting their forearm in the air in the most confident of ways.
Other things that are apparently good for your stamina are these little hard-boiled eggs that are marinated in teriyaki or soy sauce so that when you crack the shell the egg is a light brown rather than white. Again I'm not sure how much your stamina is actually improved from the eggs but I do know that they are good for making you extremely dehydrated and in need of a drink. Other than the saltiness they're not bad.
The food I've been hearing about lately is boshintang. This is the famous dog soup. I've never had it (knowingly) but I've been hearing some of the new recruits in the area talking about it and debating whether or not they want to try it. I for one am not interested. I don't have a problem if other people want to eat dogs, I don't look down upon them for trying it, as long as it's done humainely(more on that later) but I'm just not interested in eating it. If Koreans or other poeple want to give it a go that I'm all for it and I'll even be a bit curious to get their opinions. I'm not going to look at them like there monsters and how could they do that because I eat cows and in India that's seen as a major taboo. Does that make me a bag guy, no, it just makes me a guy who enjoys a greasy cheeseburger from time to time like a Korean might enjoy some dog soup.
Again though, there's this claim for stamina. The method for making dog soup is to first find yourself a dog. Now, dogs are man's best friend but you're not going to find one will to jump in a pot and be cooked. You're gonna have to catch the thing and when you do he's going to be angry. This will take some time and effort, it could even be called exercise. Supposidly the next step is to beat the dog to release the adrenaline in the dog. I'm not sure if this process is still practiced or ever was but I've heard it from some Koreans but it's kind of difficult to find an official procedure for the dish. So lets say for the sake of argument that they catch the dog and then are beating it to death to release the adrenaline.
I've never beat a dog but I'd imagine that the adrenaline pumping out of this snarling and snapping animal is only some of the adrenaline in play. No doubt the person doing the flogging is going to be building up his own adrenaline and working up a bit of a lather before dinner is finally "prepared". After that they season it, boil it, and eat it.
Now maybe dog is good for your stamina or maybe it's just an old wives tale to get people to part with the family pet centuries ago. Maybe the bit that's building stamina is the act of catching a dog, avoiding the gnashing of his teeth and beating it to the main course if this is the actual process for the meal it sounds quite labor indusive.
Having had my rant about stamina though I do find that the food is much healthier here in Korea. After all a meal of spicy vegetables and tofu has got to be better for you than two deep fried chiken breasts used as buns with the middle consisting of some melted cheese and bacon slop. I'll take the kimchi if I care to live past 50.
When I first moved here I was a bit overweight. Like a vast number of Americans I worked from my car and a quick meal on the go was always the easiest option. After 2 and a half months in Korea I had lost 20 pounds and would end up losing a total of 27 before gaining some back. I'm sure some of that was the change in my diet. I'm also sure that some of that was due to poverty as I didn't get paid for my first job so rice and vegetables was a common meal at the Walden apartment. Saying that though I still believe that it is a healthier food option than what I'd eat back home I just don't believe that everything I eat hear is going to improve the ever important stamina.
Now it's the end of the day and it's time to go and have my gamjatang(pork and potato soup) but first volleyball.....because it's good for my stamina.