In a loose, general way, the products of daily life are the same in Korea as the US. Toothpaste, toilet paper, frying pans, socks, all pretty normal. But at second glance, some of the Korean versions have extra features that are, well, pretty weird to an American. Here's a sample of some items currently in our home. Barley dish soap
Need I say more?
Barley is an additive in a lot of things in Korea. Barley tea is a popular traditional drink. And barley dish detergent is just the thing to tackle those greasy, hard-to-clean stains. It smells like we’re washing dishes with a loaf of bread.
And it was on sale.
This stuff smells exactly—exactly—like oatmeal cookies. Make a cup, and the whole room will suddenly smell like your mom’s kitchen on a snowy, winter afternoon. It’s like some sort of magic trick.
Unfortunately, it tastes like warm dirt.*
The tea is made from a mix of dried roots of complex names, all used in traditional Chinese medicine. Plus a dash of cinnamon bark and licorice root, to charm you into drinking it.
This stuff is straight out of Harry Potter potions class. But it’s supposed to help fight off colds, which is why there are two boxes in our cupboard.
*Sam actually thinks it tastes vaguely like cinnamon apple. He likes it. He also likes seaweed these days, though, so take that as you will.
Ramen Mac ’n Cheese (and Spaghetti!)
Some things should not be, and this is one of them. Unfortunately, it’s too late. I’m already addicted.
Ramen cups are a big thing in Korea for quick lunches or snacks. They’re quick and inexpensive (usually 60-90 cents a serving), so their perfect for students and people on the go. Most convenience stores have hot water available so people can chug it down right in the shop.
This particular variety is marketed exclusively to the Crazed and Homesick Westerner demographic.
As anyone who’s lived in a dorm room knows, ramen noodles have a very particular taste. It’s kind of a ricey cardboard flavor, not unpleasant but not quite good either.
Now imagine that taste mixed with cheap mac ’n cheese powder or distilled essence of Spaghetti O.
Author’s note: It tastes even better when eaten with chopsticks.
I saved the best for last, because this stuff is awesome. Remember the popcorn canon? Well this is a similar popped-rice product, conveniently pre-packaged for those times you don’t want to haul out the heavily artillery to make a snack. There's a free paper prize inside!
It is sweet, cinnamon-flavored popped rice, a sort of Korean kettle corn. It’s pleasant and crunchy, but without that biochemical addictiveness that compels one to hoark down an entire bag of Cheetos in one sitting.
Wow, do I suddenly miss Cheetos…
The selling point with Korean moms is that a serving of Jolly Pong contains 18% of every vitamin ever. It is apparently the equivalent of eating 3.4 tomatoes, 2.7… is that cucumbers? Plus 3.3 sweet potato things, a few heads of cabbage, and a single green onion. Or maybe I’m reading this wrong.
Anyway, they’re delicious.