Spam is special to this Korean dish


Spam is the gift found in Amanda Ark’s traditional Korean comfort food, Kimchi-bokkeumbap.
Any beef, chicken or tuna could be used in this dish, but Ark likes Spam because it has a significant
positive image in modern South Korean culture. The canned and processed pork product is considered a
luxury. It was air-dropped during the Korean War, given to the Korean people by the U.S. Army when food
stocks were low.
“It’s interesting how much Spam is used in dishes in Korea, because we often see it as a cheapy thing,
that we wouldn’t use very often, but in Korea it has a very positive connotation,” Ark said. “You give
it as special gifts. In holidays you will see it wrapped in boxes with 12 packs of Spam wrapped in gold
foil. It’s a gift because you are seen as caring for someone.”
South Koreans are the second largest consumers of Spam, after the United States. Ark adds that any of the
varieties might be used. However, bacon or pork-belly would also be common.
The gochujang is Korean chili paste, which is both hot and sweet. It comes in strengths that range the
spectrum for spicy heat. Ark uses the gochugaru flakes, which are dried chili pepper flakes, to bring
out the intensity.
“For me, it’s a Korean comfort food. It’s something that you can make at home, or Korean moms make it as
a food for leftover rice,” Ark said.
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea. While there are many varieties, it is basically fermented cabbage
that may have other vegetables added with other ingredients to make it sour, spicy or both.
Because rice is used at almost every meal, there is typically leftover rice available. Ark prefers it to
be a little drier.
“You kind of want the rice to be a little drier, because you want the rice to be a little crispy when you
are cooking it. That’s how you get some of that flavor from the rice. There’s actually a dish that is
rice burnt in the pan. It’s just basically burnt rice and you get a little nuttier flavor, compared to
white rice.”
Ark uses only ingredients that can be found at most grocery stores, except for the gochugaru flakes,
which she has to buy on Amazon. Depending on the store, some of the ingredients may be found in the
Asian foods section.
Ark said that many Korean dishes will start with the ingredients for kimchi-bokkeumbap, so if purchasing
these ingredients for the first time, they will almost all be used again if one is experimenting with
Korean food.
Ark moved to South Korea to teach English for a year, but she fell in love with the culture and stayed
for three more.
She received her master’s of education in curriculum and teaching from Bowling Green State University in
2013. She was already a secondary education math teacher, but she didn’t speak any Korean.
“I wanted to teach in a foreign country. I knew that,” Ark said. “It was very foreign for me.”
Her “very pale skin” made her stand out in the town she was in, making her immediately recognizable as a
Westerner. However, it was a positive view, because of Western media, Ark said.
“On the street you get used to stares from small children. I even had a little kid walk up to me in a
store, and look and stare at me until the mother hauled them away, so it is interesting,” Ark said.
In Korea she was the only American working at an all-girls middle school, teaching English as a second
language. Today, she still isn’t fluent in Korean, but speaks it conversationally.
Having no formal background in the Korean culture or language, it was a love of K-Pop and her favorite
Manga comic book called “Boys Before Flowers,” which led her to the country. A Korean girl she met while
working at a church summer camp informed her of a television adaptation of the comic.
“It’s super cheesy, super campy, but fabulous. Everything is very dramatic,” she said, adding that Korean
soap operas are a little like limited run telenovelas.
Ark is back at BGSU working on her second master’s degree, in cross cultural and international education.
She is already planning on returning to Korea.

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