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  • Writer's pictureChristensen

Picnics or Potlucks in South Korea?

I love potlucks!

I miss the ambrosia (just love that mysterious word that sounds so Southern) and the kolaches and the mac and cheese...and who can forget the corn bread with honey running down the sides? Now my mouth is salivating!

I grew up in the Promised Land (translation: Texas). And one of the blessings of that great land is their church potlucks. In Texas, even when you are visiting a small, rural church, you can occasionally run into a potluck being held after the service. "Hello, my name is... Oh, you want me to eat a smorgasbord of delicious, home cooked food? Why, hello to you too!"

I miss potlucks. We had something special.

So, of course, I have tried repeatedly to bring this cultural phenomenon to the country that has adopted me, South Korea. Now, before I get into specifics of what a Texas potluck looks like and how picnics are here in South Korea, please realize that I am not saying that potlucks are better than Korean picnics (even though they are) or that Korea needs to culturally change in any way ( should change in this one aspect). Cultures are different, but one is not better than the other (besides potlucks. Potlucks are always better).

I remember one birthday party that I was holding at my house. I had asked the guests to bring a dish for a potluck. I was excited! Potluck magic! You start with a mediocre dish that only feeds 3-4 people, and you are somehow left with this rainbow of flavors that lasts at least a week afterwards - even after people have taken left-overs home. One of my friends arrived early and empty-handed.

"Mr. Lee, where is your dish?"

"Aren't we ordering food?"

"Mr. Lee, as I explained, this is a potluck. You bring a dish."


"Because it is magically delicious!"

"Okay. I'll be back."

And he did come back...with an order of chicken.

This past Sunday, I was in charge of the "fun day" for our community group at church. After the votes were tallied, we decided to do a picnic at one of the member's art studio. It was a gorgeous hanok, or traditional Korean house, and I thought I had made it clear that it would be a potluck. I had baked brownies (sans any herbs). I hadn't emphasized it, but I had mentioned that I would be cooking and thought I had asked people what they were cooking. But in the end, I was the only one who had brought a dish made at home. Everything else was ordered, and even the person who my wife and I had hailed a taxi with had ordered chicken on the way there.

It was a great time with friends, but it was a bit disappointing since it was not a potluck. Have I ever succeeded in bringing together a potluck in South Korea? I don't think so. The closest was a few Thanksgiving meals, but that really doesn't count in my book.

Though, I must admit a little secret. I do wish the US would adopt something from Korea: great delivery services.

Part of the potluck vs picnic problem is that, here in Korea, you can order anything to be delivered anywhere. Even if the restaurant doesn't provide the service (and many do), you can get a service that will pick it up and deliver whatever to wherever. And it is fast! Bonus: there is usually no additional fees! You just have to reach the minimum order for a delivery, and it costs exactly what is on the menu.

You can even get McDonald's breakfast delivered to your home! My wife and I have done that a few lazy mornings.

One of the places my wife and I like to hang out at is the Han River Park (when the air pollution isn't bad, which means we haven't really hung out here in years :( ). You can bring a blanket for a picnic and just wait. Soon, there will be an ajuma (older woman) or an ajoshi (older man) coming around with an advertisement for a restaurant where you can order chicken, pizza or Chinese food delivered straight to your mat. We once pitched a tent and had pizza as we watched the fireworks.

So, we have something to learn from each other. But, come on, Korea! Potlucks rule! ;)

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