A side dish of squid tentacles peppered in bright red sauce sits beside a steaming bowl of soybean sprout soup.
Welcome to breakfast at Dongguk University, a Buddhist campus of 35,000 students in the heart of Seoul. It is 8:45 am in the student cafeteria, and food that would repulse most American students is the main course of the start of the day. On this Wednesday morning, breakfast includes cold pickled cabbage drenched in red pepper sauce, seaweed garnished soup, sticky white rice and shredded raw radish.
“All food is okay for the morning,” said student Jung Joo Hwan with a thumbs up, while his other hand scooped fermented spicy cabbage, kimchi, from the cafeteria’s unlimited supply.
His breakfast is typical among students at Dongguk. Included are a bowl of sticky white rice and a bowl of soup, which is usually of fish stock or soy broth. Then there are three to five other small dishes, served in palm-sized bowls. Typically, these include a meat or dried fish, pickled vegetables, including acorn-based jelly, and a raw shredded vegetable. Koreans love their food peppery hot, even in the morning.
The price for such a meal? ₩3300, or less than $3. About 7,000 miles away at Stony Brook University, the same amount of money could buy you one serving of French fries.
However, one thing was familiar. Just like at the cafeteria of Student Activity Center at Stony Brook University, you can order at a machine that then spits out your paper ticket. However, at this cafeteria, the kiosk displays just one option. You must eat what they choose to give you.