During lunch hour in the business areas of Seoul, the local shikdangs are packed with office workers. Eating out is pretty reasonable, but prices have been going up and people are looking for cheaper lunch options. So we have seen the rise of the doshirak lunch box.
Some diligent office workers manage to make their own doshirak at home every morning. A homemade lunch is probably healthier and definitely more convenient since you don’t have to go out and find somewhere to eat every day. So Mr. Kim recently announced that he too would like to take a doshirak for lunch. But since he isn’t diligent, I have to make it for him …
I bought a very snazzy (and expensive) Japanese thermos bento box with three containers one for soup, one for rice, and one for all those ‘delicious side dishes’ (leftovers in the fridge). And now I have entered the interesting world of doshirak culture.
The first thing I learned was that you have to use fried kimchi in a lunchbox otherwise the kimchi will stink out the whole bus or train carriage in the morning. So I cut up a load of kimchi into small pieces, fry it, and keep it in a container in the fridge ready to go. The next thing I learned was that it’s not just the taste that matters, the doshirak has to look nice, because other people are looking. And judging …me! I have heard of wives who DON’T want their husbands to take doshiraks to work for this very reason. They feel embarrassed that everyone will see what kind of food the family eats at home.
At first I pooh-poohed this idea. What do I care what people think? Am I defined by my doshirak? But then I had a disaster involving a boiled egg and vegetable salad. Mr Kim said the salad tasted nice but it looked TERRIBLE. It was all discoloured with the herbs and dressing. All the doshirak bringers sit around one table in his office so there were sneaky peeks at his sad lunch followed by looks of commiseration (and possibly mild disgust). Is everyone now feeling sorry for Mr Kim married to the foreigner who clearly can’t cook Korean food….
Mr Kim bravely announced that he is prepared to battle on with my doshiraks (but if I could just ‘make them look a bit better’ then that would be great ….. grrrrrr) When I agreed to this I didn’t realise I would have to make artistic dishes good enough for Instagram. But I’ll keep trying.
Chef Paik Jong Won advertises his range of doshirak at CU convenience Store
CONVENIENCE STORE DOSHIRAK
The alternative to making your own doshirak is buying one readymade. Apparently sales of doshirak have more than doubled in Korea this year compared to last year. All the big convenience store chains have a range of doshirak advertised by celebrities and celebrity chefs. The TV chef Paik Jong Won is SO popular these days. His face is everywhere. (see above) He is often on TV cookery shows, has several books on the best sellers list, owns a chain of restaurants and coffee shops, and has a popular range of doshirak at CU convenience store.
I bought his chip bap menu 52 cookery book when it was number 1 on the best seller’s list. He aims to make simple and quick recipes that even beginners can make. I tried several of his recipes and they are certainly tasty. However, I thought some of the measurements in the book were misprints because the amounts of sugar and soy sauce seemed so high. I used less and the dishes still tasted good. So it seems that the emphasis is on taste and not necessarily health. I usually just eat lunch at home if I can, but I wanted to try his doshirak. They look very good …
CU convenience store has a range of the chef’s rice ball (2,000 won) and a variety of doshirak. The spicy pork doshirak is the most popular, but I went for this chicken breast in spicy soy sauce, with sweet and sour prawn (and maybe meat) balls, egg, ham, fried courgette, and fried kimchi. (above) The dishes were very flavourful. Sometimes rice in a doshirak can get a bit stodgy but the rice was nicely cooked too.
The doshiraks aim to be tasty, filling, and value for money and they certainly achieve this. At 3,900 won, the meal is very cheap and great value. You can have it microwaved in the convenience store before taking it back to the office. But as I mentioned, his recipes are meant to be tasty and so they don’t hold back on soy sauce or sugar – the chicken sauce, the sweet and sour sauce, and the fried egg omelet all tasted quite sweet. Really good. But sweet. Also there is no nutritional information on the box apart from a general list of ingredients. But still, I think a readymade doshirak can sometimes make a great alternative to eating out for lunch on a busy day.