When I first visited Korea, I found it somewhat difficult to eat.  Not because of the food itself, I had eaten at (and enjoyed) Korean restaurants many times before.  Rather it was because of the way that a Korean meal works.  Its typically not based on any one dish but consists of rice, soup, and a 10 or so shared side dishes.  Thus after each bite I had to think about which side dish I wanted to eat next.  Eating at Korean restaurants hadn’t really prepared me for Korean meals.  At a restraunt there was always a main dish that was mine to focus on.  The side dishes were just that: side dishes.  In a Korean home the side dishes are the focus.

However, the fact that Korean food is more about an approach to the meal and less about the food came into focus on my most recent trip to Korea.  I was sitting in a Bennigans of all places having a large family meal with my relatives.  Two cousins of mine were sharing fajitas.  While one of them did occasionally wrap a single piece of meat in a tortilla, for the most part the meat, sauteed vegetables, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole were treated as a set of side dishes.  They would individually eat a vegetable or a piece of meat.  The tortillas were mostly left alone.  And the sour cream and guacamole were hesitatingly picked around.  Thus although the ingredients were faithfully reproduced, the concept of a fatija just wasn’t there.  Although its rarely explicitly recognized, the meal resides in the mind of the person eating it, regardless of the food in front of them.