You can lead a 물 to water… (Korean drinking water)

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Drinking Water.

No, not quality. quantity. There is a serious void in the stomachs of Koreans. That void is water.

I drink a boatload of water. Realistically I drink probably three liters of water a day on average. Oh and 3.8 liters to a gallon there, people. Most doctors recommend that at least 2 liters be consumed daily to simply replace the lost fluids by normal functions such as excretion, respiration, and perspiration. But if you consume about 2 liters of water in a day, then you’re probably doing fine by most - and probably more than most.

Korean drinking water amount 물

Most being Koreans. Koreans straight up do not drink water at meals. It’s amazing. I go to fill people’s water cups and they haven’t even touched it. Mind you that we’re eating Korean food which is not exactly I.B.S. friendly - many traditional dishes are downright fiery while the rest of simply hot and a few are mild. No matter - my Korean buddies don’t crave fluids the same way that I do. Is it because I’m from Texas and it gets nasty hot here? Maybe, but so does Korea. Is it because I’m listening to doctor’s orders? Partially - but then again, I naturally want to drink lots of fluids at my meal. Is it because they are drinking different fluids instead if water? Well, sort of. 보리차  is a staple at Korean tables but they aren’t exactly downing it. Soda is served in skinny little cans and is quite rare at most restaurants as a main source of fluids.

So why aren’t Koreans shriveling up and dying from dehydration? Who knows? Maybe it’s the huge amounts of fruit consumed - we’re talking daily 수박 intake. 90% of the fruit’s content is water while the rest is downright a crime not to eat - Have you not tried Korean watermelon yet? Missing out.

Maybe it’s the fluid found in the soups, stews, and broths. Come to think of it, I do eat every last possible ounce of fluid in any 찌개 I eat and certainly in every bowl of 떡라맨 - don’t you know it’s sacrilegious to not eat the broth?

Perhaps Koreans know what’s the deal after all. Maybe they just got lucky…

Regardless, the serving cups for water are typically just that - a fluid cup. One cup. Like a measuring cup. What am I supposed to do with that? I feel like a fatty when I have to get two cups just to make it where I can sit down for the majority of the meal instead of always getting up for me. My secret? Sitting in the table right next to the water cooler. Arms distance away is an oasis untapped by the locals. Water. I am here. Wait for me.

Come to think of it, my Korean friends are always asking me if the food is too hot - assuming that since I am a foreigner, I’m eating Korean food, I’m drinking lots of water, I’m sweating like a duck that I must be tolerating the food to save face. Not true! This food is frakin great and I’m enjoying a nice refreshing shot-glass size cup of water in an attempt to cleanse my palate. I appreciate the concern, but I’m plenty rude enough to not eat the food served to me - okay so I’m not that rude - but I am eating Korean food out of choice - not out of obligation. Maybe you’re the one who needs to cool down? Here, have some water.

Thoughts?

14 Responses to “You can lead a 물 to water… (Korean drinking water)”

  1. avatar Austin(오민) Says:

    Matthew…

    Man, I love the way you write… it’s entertaining.

    Anyway, I have head two explanations for the water thing.

    1) There is water in the 찌게

    2) Drinking too much water during a meal can cause digestion problems

    Now, with no. 1, I can follow the logic, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be the same. By the same logic drinking 2 liters of lipton ice tea would satisfy my thirsty cells.

    About no 2. I had never heard that before I came to Korea, but several of my foreign friends confirm it. I’m no gastrointerologist, so whatever, but I’m with you. Water is pretty essential.

    One of the first things I remember my students asking me is “Is water your favorite food?” I had been taking a gigantic (by Korean standards) Nalgene bottle into each of my classes for the first couple weeks.

  2. avatar Matthew Says:

    “is water your favorite food?” lol - I got the same question…yeah I’m with you. I’m content be it tea or water.

    But it’s weird, one time after playing basketball my friend asked me what I wanted to eat. I told him 비빔국수. He and his friends acted like I threw them a curve ball. After 5 minutes of deliberating, they told me with quite certainty “You picked the wrong food”. I asked what would be the right food to eat. He said “Well, we’re thirsty, so we should eat 칼국수 or 공국수”.

    I see the logic - both are liquid-based foods just like any soup or stew. Here’s my question: Why do they have to hate on water so much? Why can’t a Southern boy just have him a nice tall glass of water to go with my new shirt that will proudly state “I wanted spicy noodles - I’m older than you - so deal with it”

  3. avatar s@r@h Says:

    Oh dear. I’m afraid I’ll get asked that question too. (Is water your favorite food?) I can’t eat at all without a tall glass of water, and for spicy food, I just might need an ice bucket…which brings me to my question, what about ice? Is it hard to come by?

  4. avatar Keith Says:

    One thing that I noticed was that Koreans drink water at the end of their meals. Korean people don’t really drink water while they’re eating. They’ll save the cup of water until the end of their meal. I always found that really interesting :)

  5. avatar Amyable Says:

    This is interesting. I’m Korean American and when I visited Korea, I really couldn’t understand why I couldn’t easily get water with my meals. Since I eat a lot of Korean food, I don’t think this water thing is a matter of brothy foods like 찌게. It must be cultural habitual thing. When my cousins visited the US recently and stayed with me, they really couldn’t believe how much water we drink with our meals.

  6. avatar Manyakumi Says:

    Yeah.
    I drink only 0.1~0.3 liters of water in a day.
    Of course it happens when I finish my meal.
    Weird thing is that I still don’t drink much when I didn’t eat any 찌개 or 국 at all.
    Maybe my body doesn’t need waters so much.
    :)

  7. avatar Shan Says:

    Has it anything to do with weather? When it’s cold, we tend to drink less since our bodies don’t lose as much water. Or is it because Koreans are not used to the taste of water, since they grow up drinking barley tea at home??

  8. avatar Daniel K Says:

    I’m not a huge “I must have ice in my water or soft drink!” kind of person, so I never ran into the ice problem. But, I hear there is many a foreigner in Korea, vexed at not being able to get a few ice cubes from their server to put into their “shot-glass size” cup of water… :)

    I’m also not a big “I must drink X liters of water per day!” kind of person, and I much prefer fruit juice with my meals. But, whenever I eat in a restaurant (here in Canada or in Korea), I find I tend to drink a lot of water with my meal. So, to someone who isn’t observing my private eating habits at home, it would appear that I’m a major water-chugger, when I’m really not, except at restaurants. Hmm…

  9. avatar Kimberly Says:

    Matthew, your post made me laugh! Two years ago I visited Korea for a month and upon my return to the US, my friend asked me if I needed to go to the hospital because I didn’t look well. I told her I would be fine if I could just get some WATER!!!!

    Dehydration is no fun, people. I spent so much money in Korea buying bottles and bottles of water. I was there for a month, so I really started to feel the effects. In restaurants, the water bottle brought to the table that was supposed to supply an entire party of 10 people with water was the same size bottle I personally use at work! Geez… Not only was there a limited amount of water, but Koreans tend to drink beer and soju with their meals, and this does nothing but make matters worse. Believe me, you will need LOTS of water after several shots of soju and Korean cuisine. There is nothing worse than drinking all night only to wake up the next morning and there is no water anywhere! I finally resorted to carrying bottled water with me everywhere (like a typical American) and I got some stares because of it.

    Oh, and speaking of small-have you noticed the little servings of coffee that come from a vending machine? They are so cute-they remind me of the little dixie cups I have in my bathroom for mouthwash. Ahh-I love Korean culture (I really do, I’m not being sarcastic!) :)

  10. avatar TaeSeong Says:

    Koreans save the cup of water till the end of the meal so they can eat the most amount of food.
    Drinking water while you’re eating causes you to become fuller faster, and as Korea was a war-torn country not too long ago, food is a major, major part of Korean daily life.
    Water is drunk at the end of the meal to satisfy the thirst which is caused by eating your food.

    On the note of 보리차 (barley tea)…it is often called 물. To Koreans, it is all but interchangeable, water…barley tea…same thing.

    As for drinking lots of 맥주 and 소주, Koreans just like their alcohol, and can drink a lot, for what reason I do not know (but they can really drink…believe me). Also, many times they have some sort of hang-over 역 to battle the oncoming hang-over.

    Most Koreans today have little water units in their home since the sewage system is still…not so great in Korea (in regards to the tap water purity anyways).

    Hope this helps.

  11. avatar Peter Says:

    I just moved to Korea 2 days ago, and start teaching English tomorrow. I stumbled on this article, and have already experienced a lot of it…at lunch on saturday with some fellow teachers, they didn’t have any water, and thought it was kinda weird when I went and took some water from the teacher’s lounge to have with my meal. The meal wasn’t spicy at all (just some noodles) so they were wondering what was up. I also brought my nalgene with me to the office, cause I’m used to just always having it around and sipping it throughout the day. Let’s see how long it takes a student to ask if water is my favorite food…

  12. avatar rooraa Says:

    ㅋㅋㅋ, I cracked up so many times reading this post. But anyways, I was never aware that Americans drank a lot of water during meals but I suppose it’s becuase I don’t really drink water when I eat or noticed it. But I know I can’t handle spicy food (TT_TT) so Iknow water’s going to be my best friend if I ever eat at a korean restaurant ㅎㅎㅎ

  13. KoreanClass101.com Blog » Blog Archive » You sure it doesn’t mess up your stomach? (Korean drinking water p.2) Says:

    […] It is highly recommended to read part one. Even if you already read it, I added a photo and it makes me giggle when I look at it. Just FYI. […]

  14. avatar Maria Says:

    I also think that this may be an important point to make out. What a lot of people don’t actually know is that “oriental” Asians so people from china, japan and Korea ect have a decreased amount of sweat produced, so I don’t know if you noticed that most people in Korea just don’t sweat so that’s why there really isn’t a big demand for deodorant and most koreans don’t even use it. This is genetic so it’s not something you can get from changing your diet as they are supposed to be more adapt to living in colder Areas then Caucasians are by having this really decreased production in sweat so therefore they don’t need to take up as much water because they don’t loose as much water through sweat then we do! ^

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