A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Burning Sensation

"Teacher!"

*ack* *gasp* *tears welling*

"W...water!"

Rarely a day goes by where I don't hear this forlorn cry, and the more sympathetic among you might say "Sam Teacher, for the love of God, let the children drink!"

But your cries would be for naught.

Not because I'm a sadist— quite the opposite— I'm trying to curb self-destructive behavior in the guise of innocent snacking.

The culprit? Ddeokbokki.

Photo: Galbijim

Rice cakes stir-fried in excruciating red pepper sauce, and a permanent fixture in the spasming, sweaty hands of school children throughout the country who are under its spell.

Ddeokbokki is spicy— virally spicy— in a way that masks all semblance of flavour, save burning.

I tried it unassumingly once, and was so overcome by the potency that I actually drank Korean tap water to calm the inferno. "That's the spiciest thing I've ever tasted," I thought, "and I once ate a big heaping bowl of spice!

(The latter being untrue.)

For some reason (possibly because it is cheap and everywhere... so really, forget "possibly") the kids can't get enough of it, despite the fact that it obviously causes them physical pain. Children clutch burning lips and cry out for a drink, but if you're going to sneak it into the class and munch in my blind spots, you're going to suffer smart guy.

I ask the kids why they eat it if it causes them such pain.

They shrug.

It's a fixture of Korean youth culture. You'd be a social leper if you didn't like ddeokbokki. One of my students (my favorite, You-jin) wrote in a journal entry:

"My favorite food is 떡볶이. It is a thin rice cake in spicy sauce. It is very, very ultra-good, but Sam does not like the taste... WHY???"

It was as if I forced her to question the very fundamentals of being human:

1. Bipedal.
2. Tool-making/using.
3. Thinking (occasionally).
4. With Soul.
5. With ddeokbokki.

It may be a small step in a hopeless war, but my tiny effort in the fight against culinary masochism will at least leave a few reconsidering their position on going through 40 minutes of gochujang hell, for a sweet, forbidden nosh.

Sam-Sam: 1

1 comment:

Shane Patenaude said...

It gets even more confusing in the summer, Sam. That's when the weather is unbearably hot and STILL the kids will tote those paper cups to class and have rivulets of sweat running down their faces as they gasp down bite after bite.

And then they drink all the salty firey fluid at the bottem like total fools.

Between adults and their piping hot ramyeon, and kids with their spicy ddeokbokgi, it appears the only good snacks are the ones you can barely keep in your mouth without crying out from the pain of heat/spice.