We’ve all skilled some type of isolation over the previous 12 months as a result of COVID-19 pandemic — both sanctioned by the federal government or by private alternative. My most potent expertise of solitude was a mixture of each: 14 days quarantined in South Korea, per the nation’s strict journey insurance policies, after touring from New York to my hometown in December 2020 to go to my mother and father for the primary time in seven years.
At a quarantine facility in Pohang, about 170 miles southeast of Seoul, I used to be given a room with an ocean view however no furnishings apart from a chair, a desk, and a small fridge. I slept on the ground and was not allowed to depart, even for train. Realizing that in two weeks I might get to hug my mother and father made it bearable. That, and the surprisingly unimaginable and ample meals, which might be dropped onto a chair outdoors my door thrice every day. A telephone name, not a knock, would let me comprehend it had arrived.
Right here is my diary of the mundane, exhausting, and weirdly scrumptious 14 days I spent on this Korean quarantine facility, by which I ate my emotions one bountiful dosirak at a time.
Day 1: The Journey
After a 13-hour flight, I’m shedding my sense of time just a little bit, however there’s a lot extra journey and processing to go. There’s a temperature verify and limitless paperwork demanding my quarantine tackle and make contact with info. The employees calls the variety of the power to verify the telephone is working, in case they should attain me. Everybody who lands in South Korea at the moment has to obtain a quarantine app on their telephone, which additionally permits officers to trace my location, guaranteeing that I don’t depart my quarantine facility.
After extra types, telephone calls, and interviews, I lastly depart the gate, however I’ve to attend one other hour to take a delegated bus to the prepare station (to forestall native transmission of the coronavirus, international vacationers usually are not allowed to make use of public transportation). I resolve to have a fast dinner on the airport to gasoline up for the remainder of my journey. I deal with myself with the Korean cockle bibimbap set, served in attractive copper bowls, full with three banchan and a soup. Meaty cockles arrive completely seasoned with massive chunks of peppers and scallions, and I get a whiff of sesame oil as I’m mixing them with a steamy bowl of rice. That is precisely what I have to really feel like I’ve lastly arrived in Korea. I take an image with this attractive copper dinner set and ship it to my mother and father with a trio of crying emojis.
My first meal on the airport was a Korean cockle bibimbap set
After the bus trip, I’m escorted to a separate holding area till I can board my prepare to Pohang. Town is situated within the province of North Gyeongsang, about 169 miles south of Seoul. As soon as once more, I’m reminded how far I dwell from my mother and father.
There is just one different quarantining traveler on the high-speed prepare to Pohang, and we’re given a complete automobile to ourselves. A police officer, solely coated in a protecting coverall, guards us your complete time, turning away any locals who attempt to sit close to us. I really feel like a strolling illness. I’m grateful that everybody is taking such critical measures, however the palpable wariness I’ve sensed from each particular person I’ve interacted with for the final 24 hours is extra exhausting than I’d anticipated.
As soon as I lastly arrive at Pohang station, I’m greeted by a employees member from the native well being division, additionally coated from head to toe in protecting gear, who confirms my info. After which, lastly, I catch a glimpse of my dad, who’s been ready for me to return dwelling for such a very long time. All I would like is to run towards him and provides him the largest hug, however I’m not allowed. All I can do is wave at him, a sorry different, from 10 ft away.
My mother and father and I are awkwardly smiling at each other because the employees escorts me to the automobile to take me to my remaining vacation spot. This seemingly endless journey is nearly over. It’s been over 30 hours since I left my condominium in New York, and I really feel greasy and exhausted. Lastly, at 2 a.m. — after signing one final kind, which says, “You aren’t allowed to depart your room throughout your quarantine” — I verify into my dwelling for the following 14 days, a small sq. studio with a desk and a TV. I’m buzzy and wakeful until 5 a.m. serious about what my first meal will probably be tomorrow.
Day 2: Dosirak
Very first thing within the morning, I’ve to get examined. I ought to have been examined earlier than checking into the quarantine facility, however needed to look ahead to the following day, since I arrived late. My mother arranges for the native well being division to select me up. A driver arrives, which makes me really feel very VIP, even when the explanation for the particular remedy is that I’m a possible nationwide well being hazard. I’m despatched again after a barely painful nasal swab take a look at with a free bag of hand sanitizers and KF-94 masks. After I return to my room, there’s a present ready for me: my very first meal, wrapped in a white plastic bag, sitting on high of the designated meal-depositing chair within the hallway outdoors my room.
Early within the pandemic, the Korean government-issued comfort-food packages for quarantining people acquired world consideration, filled with scrumptious on the spot noodles, canned tuna, ready-to-eat soups, rice, and extra. It was an appetizing different to the meals different quarantine people had — like these poor NYU children who mainly acquired unhappy salad and heat orange juice. Moderately than keep at an Airbnb or a government-assigned resort, I’d chosen to quarantine at a resort owned by POSCO, the corporate my dad works for. It had quickly been remodeled right into a quarantine facility — outfitted with a cafeteria at which I can’t eat — for workers and their households.
The meals guidelines are easy: It comes thrice a day in bento field kind, known as dosirak in South Korea, and is left on high of the chair outdoors my room. Employees will name when the meals is prepared, and I can open the door to select it up — the one time I’m allowed to open the door in the course of the quarantine.
Cracking open my door to get my meal is the spotlight of every day
I really like dosirak, and the primary meal is dreamy. I’d been anticipating rice and possibly a few banchan, however this dosirak is premium: 4 banchan, two major entrees, a bowl of rice, and a soup, per set. By the point I return from my testing, they’ve already introduced each my lunch and breakfast, so I mix them to have a quarantine feast of braised pollock, spicy braised hen, seasoned spinach, rice cake-stuffed fish truffles, spicy uncooked squid jeotgal, egg, and dumpling soup, soy-braised potato and hen, crispy spring rolls, seasoned dried squid, seasoned garlic stems, radish with yuzu, kimchi, and spicy beef and radish soup. All of it for me.
My very first quarantine dosirak feast with braised pollock, spicy braised hen, seasoned spinach, rice cake-stuffed fishcakes, dumpling soup, and beef and radish soup, and extra.
The dosirak units have been sitting on the chair for a couple of hours, so they’re lukewarm by the point I dig in. However I don’t thoughts. I really feel spoiled with so many selections. I’m going straight to the braised pollock for my first spoon of rice. The fish absorbs the spicy, tangy sauce and goes completely with rice. With none break, I instantly attain for the spinach, certainly one of my favourite banchan, adopted by sharp, spicy kimchi, and spicy beef and radish soup.
Contemplating the truth that most authorities quarantine packages encompass on the spot, premade meals, I really feel extremely grateful to be consuming one thing that truly tastes like dwelling cooking. It’s solely the primary day, however I begin getting emotional. Twelve extra days appears like an eternity. I simply want my household had been right here.
Day 3: The Care Bundle
It’s been solely two days since I began my quarantine, however who’s counting? My morning begins with checking my temperature and recording it on the app. Despite the fact that I’m in Korea, 1000’s of miles nearer to my household, it actually doesn’t really feel prefer it. I nonetheless discuss to my mother and father by way of FaceTime, similar to once I’m again in New York.
My mother and father resolve to return go to me, regardless that it solely means I can shout to them from my second-floor balcony. They ask me if I would like something from the market. I’ve a complete record of issues I would like, however as a substitute I merely ask for “something that appears scrumptious!”
Households are allowed to drop care packages on the entrance desk of my quarantine facility, and the employees will deliver it to the room. After I get the decision that my bundle has arrived, I open the door, anticipating a couple of objects, however these are Asian mother and father. Abundance is their love language. An infinite bag match to feed a household of 10 is ready for me.
I hear my mother screaming from outdoors, “James! Let me see my son’s face!” I run to the balcony and yell again, “Mother! Why did you get me so many issues? How would I eat all of those?” We each know that I’ll don’t have any drawback consuming the whole lot she introduced me, but it surely feels good to banter. After taking numerous footage and movies to share in our household group chat, we scream, “I miss you!” to one another. My mother shakes her head in denial of the scenario. “Simply 12 extra days,” I yell. “You waited seven years for me to return again to Korea, so 12 extra days ought to be positive!”
Screaming “I really like you!” to my mother outdoors of my balcony
I come again in and begin unboxing the care bundle. The primary mysterious black plastic bag is kkwabaegi, a Korean twisted donut, coated in sugar. It’s heat, chewy, and a wanted reminder that I’m certainly in Korea. You possibly can’t get this sort of scent and style in New York. The following bag holds a tangerine protect for making tea. Triple-wrapped inside one other plastic bag are bundles of kkaetnip, or perilla leaves. There are not less than 50 leaves of kkaetnip and lettuce, which I plan to eat together with my dosiraks, adopted by a bundle of jokbal (Korean braised pig ft), a complete napa cabbage, a bag of Korean gyul (tangerines), eggs, crackers, and even beer.
I didn’t particularly ask for any of these items, but it surely’s my mother — she is aware of me. Then, in spite of everything that, I get the decision to select up my dosirak. It’s at all times thrilling to see what varieties of banchan I get, however I find yourself saving it for later so I can bask in my jokbal unfold. I’ve collagen-heavy, chewy jokbal, accompanied with fermented salted shrimp, ssamjang, wasabi-heavy soy sauce, napa cabbage, kkaetnip, and lettuce, similar to how I might eat it at a restaurant. This specific jokbal is thought for its diagonal slice, so I merely dip a bit into wasabi soy sauce to take pleasure in its extra-chewy texture. My favourite manner of having fun with jokbal is to make a giant ssam, so I seize a giant piece of lettuce with a couple of jobak items, adopted by a dollop of ssamjang and fermented salted shrimp. I wrap all of them up in a giant pouch and shove it into my mouth. My butt is heat from sitting on the heated flooring, and I’m downing massive jokbal ssams whereas watching Korean TV exhibits. On this second, I feel, This quarantine isn’t so unhealthy, in spite of everything.
My jokbal platter with fermented shrimp paste, ssamjang, wasabi and soy sauce, and an assortment of lettuce and perilla leaves.
Days 4-7: Timelessness
Let me let you know extra about my quarantine room. It’s a typical Korean studio with minimal furnishings, which implies no mattress, no sofa, nothing — only a flooring (which, once more, is mercifully heated — it’s 28 levels outdoors). There’s no separate kitchen, only a small fridge. It’s typical in Korean tradition to sleep on the ground, particularly for members of my mother and father’ era. I later notice that the quarantine facility purposely took out the beds to make their cleansing job simpler after the quarantining particular person leaves. A minimum of there’s a jaw-dropping ocean view.
Each morning, I watch the dawn and take heed to the calming sound of the ocean waves. Despite the fact that it’s freezing outdoors, I open the doorways to the balcony extensive. Seeing the ocean at any time when I look out the window helps me faux I’m in some attractive trip home that I may by no means afford as a substitute of a tiny room that I’m not allowed to depart. I really feel extremely grateful. Some government-managed quarantine amenities don’t even have home windows.
Right here’s my quarantine crib with a beautiful sundown view
One grievance: There’s no microwave. If I don’t eat the dosirak straight away, I find yourself consuming it chilly, which was positive the primary few days, however now I’m significantly beginning to miss sizzling meals. The pleasure of heated aromas. The sensation of heat from the steam. Even the fast tongue scald from sipping sizzling soup. These are the sensations that get me labored up earlier than taking a chew — and you’ll’t get any of it from room-temp meals.
However the banchans are scrumptious sufficient, and once more I’m grateful to have something remotely this good, so I push by means of. I usually don’t have a giant urge for food at 9 a.m. when my breakfast will get dropped, so I have a tendency to mix my breakfast and lunch dosiraks for an enormous noon quarantine feast. One dosirak combo is especially nice: soy-braised garlic scapes, seasoned salted squid, spicy hen with rice truffles, braised tofu, sesame shiitake mushroom, dried strips of squid, spinach, spicy stir-fried squid, kimchi, and spicy beef and radish soup. Out of all these banchan, seasoned salted squid was the star. It’s jeotgal, a meals class of salted preserved dishes made with seafood, and I can eat bowls of rice simply with this. Additionally, with a great deal of the kkaetnip that my mother gave me, I make massive ssam with all of the banchan. I put three or 4 kkaetnip leaves on my palm with a spoonful of rice, spicy hen, spinach, and kimchi. I are inclined to fill them up with a lot that my kkaetnip ssam seems to be taut like a tennis ball.
Breakfast dosirak with braised tofu, spicy hen, garlic stems, kimchi, rice cake-stuffed fishcakes, and joet-gal
Lunch contains shiitake mushroom, seasoned spinach, seasoned shredded squid, spicy octopus, and hen.
I’m conserving unusual hours as a result of I’m working remotely with my workplace again in New York. I hearth up my pc round midnight and work till round 8 a.m. in Korea. I often log off to relaxation and eat a big lunch a couple of hours later, round midday. By 5:30 p.m., I’ve dinner, after which — if I’m fortunate — I go to sleep at 6. I get up at 11 p.m., and my weird day begins over again. The routine, bizarre as it’s, provides my days some sense of construction.
Inevitably, although, my thoughts and physique begin feeling off. When a banana, wrapped individually in plastic, arrives in my dosirak on day 4, I really feel like I’ve received the lottery. That is the primary time I’ve obtained fruit with a meal, and my eyes effectively up with pleasure. I can’t work out if I’m genuinely this excited over a banana or if I’m shedding my thoughts. It’s in all probability the latter.
I start FaceTiming my mother over lunch to assist with the loneliness. We don’t need to say a lot to one another; simply consuming together with her makes me really feel higher. She exhibits me her humble lunch: simply rice, napa cabbage, doenjang (Korean soybean paste), and seaweed. On the facility, I’m blessed with 12 completely different kinds of banchan, six entrees, and three soups. My mother is glad that I’ve been consuming so effectively, however I really feel some guilt as she eats her rice with cabbage and no meat. I can’t wait to share a feast together with her as soon as I’m out of quarantine.
I’ve been facetiming my mother whereas consuming to assist my loneliness
Days 8-12: The Air Fryer Miracle
I’m lastly greater than midway by means of quarantine, and I’ve a tower of unfinished chilly rice, a few chilly soups, a great deal of on the spot espresso, and some different random unfinished dishes all unfold on the shelf on high of the fridge that I’ve dubbed the pantry. Since I can’t go outdoors, there are trash cans on my balcony, the place I preserve a pile of fresh dosirak containers. The upper the tower of dosirak containers will get, the nearer I’m to the top of my quarantine. I’m nonetheless desperately lacking sizzling meals. I daydream a few effervescent pot of soondubu jjigae, a spicy silken tofu stew, and a giant bowl of rice so steamy it fogs my glasses. I fantasize concerning the sensation of burning my mouth as I rush to eat just-cooked pork stomach.
Immediately, inspiration strikes. If I can’t have a microwave, what about an air fryer? I name the employees, asking whether or not it could be allowed. There’s slight confusion, hesitation, and a protracted pause over the telephone, after which, similar to that, the receptionist says, “Sure, you should use an air fryer.”
I name my mother, crying.
My mother and father have a tiny air fryer that they don’t use, and this appears like destiny. They drop it off over the weekend, together with one other care bundle of goodies to get me by means of the following a number of days.
Together with the air fryer, wrapped in a silky purple material like a treasure, my mother contains an lovable oven mitt, frightened that I’d burn my arms. There are different pleasant treats, corresponding to an assortment of fried issues, like shrimp, squid, and potatoes. There are additionally steamed buns; juicy, plump Korean strawberries; tender persimmons, known as hong si; and eggs.
I reheat the fried treats in my air fryer and eat them. Sure, I burn my mouth, and I’ve by no means been happier about it.
A care bundle from mother included an assortment of fried greens.
To rejoice the arrival of my air fryer, I deal with myself to supply Korean fried hen and Korean pizza. I open the can of beer that I used to be saving from the final care bundle. Despite the fact that I’ve liked my each day dosirak, it’s such a deal with to take pleasure in supply meals. The second I take the primary chew of Korean fried hen, I’m not exhausted by my journey and peculiar schedule. It’s a style of dwelling that no Korean fried hen outdoors of the nation may replicate. The hen is so crisp, juicy with a spicy kick, and it takes me again to my childhood, getting Korean fried hen with my brother. The so-called “Chicago deep-dish pizza” has fried shrimp, pineapple, purple onions, and a candy sauce that makes it uniquely Korean.
I used to be capable of order Korean fried hen and pizza as a weekend deal with
Quarantining on my own hasn’t been enjoyable; staying up for 30 hours unintentionally, consuming a lot espresso in order that I received’t go to sleep whereas working, being unable to go for a stroll moreover onto my slim balcony to throw away my trash, and coping with my loneliness and insecurities with nobody to speak to or distract me have all been low factors. I’ve spent hours simply looking at my face and my physique, criticizing. I’ve heard of some artistic folks doing exercises whereas quarantined, however I might relatively watch different folks’s mukbang. Why do I really feel exhausted on a regular basis, regardless that I don’t transfer in any respect? My thoughts is crammed with so many random ideas, and never all of them really feel nice.
However consuming unimaginable Korean fried hen and pizza, sipping ice-cold beer in my pajamas whereas trying on the ocean on a Sunday afternoon? I couldn’t be any happier. Only a few extra days till I get to be with my household.
Days 13-14: Mukbang
Because it seems, 14 days is really no joke. I’ve spent nearly half a month on this tiny room, spoiled by scrumptious dosirak thrice a day. And now, as a result of I handled myself with some fried hen and pizza, I’ve 4 saved-up dosirak, stacked on high of each other, to take pleasure in as I like.
I’ve had three dosirak directly, however 4? I problem myself. (Something for just a little pleasure.) I’ll attempt to eat 16 aspect dishes, eight completely different entrees, and 4 completely different soups. Nothing is labeled, so I resolve to play a guessing sport as effectively. Early on I discovered that filming myself consuming and sharing the movies on social media took a little bit of the sting out of eating alone day after day, and this meal, I determine, will probably be a feast value sharing.
Difficult myself with consuming 4 dosiraks directly; I proudly devoured each chew
Having an air fryer is nice for cooking eggs and reheating leftover fried hen, but it surely’s not so helpful in the case of reheating rice or soup. And there are days — like this one — once I don’t really feel like consuming chilly dosirak, days once I want I may slurp sizzling noodles relatively than eat rice. I discover myself complaining to myself about my scenario relatively than being appreciative. However then I attempt to do not forget that so many individuals are struggling to get meals, not to mention a good meal, throughout this difficult time. There are ajummas, an endearing time period for middle-aged Korean ladies, who put together these meals for me and ship them a number of instances a day. Placing on a smile, I movie myself devouring 4 dosiraks directly. I end each chew, and I’m as soon as once more grateful — if just for my metabolism.
By the point I start to get used to my new schedule and the routine of getting calls from the workplace to select up my meals, it’s nearly time to depart. Earlier than I can formally try, I have to get examined yet one more time. Identical to the primary time, the native well being division comes to select me up, and I’m excited to stroll outdoors my room for the primary time in weeks, even when it’s simply to the automobile. The information will get higher: Expectedly, my take a look at got here again unfavourable, and I can lastly be with my mother and father. The one factor standing between us is one final evening on the facility, and one final dosirak feast.
For my final quarantine feast, I open the cup noodles that I’ve been saving
There’s spicy pork bulgogi, stir-fried anchovies, kimchi, steamed cabbage, hamburger steak, radish kimchi, steamed eggs, and a lot extra. To make my final quarantine meal further particular, I open the moment ramen noodles I’ve been saving. I can’t even let you know how a lot I’ve missed slurping noodles. As I’m sipping the new, beefy, spicy broth of the cup noodles with rice, I get emotional, serious about this once-in-a-lifetime expertise I’ve had, quarantining in my hometown, Pohang, spoiled with unimaginable meals choices and gorgeous the ocean views and sunrises day-after-day for the previous 13 days.
Self-quarantine will be troublesome — each mentally and bodily. However these Korean dosiraks had been true presents and have become the spotlight of my mundane days. As soon as I’m out, there will probably be so many choices, however there will probably be nothing fairly as significant because the lukewarm dosiraks that introduced me a lot pleasure and happiness when there was little of both to be discovered.
My remaining quarantine mukbang
Day 14: Freedom
I can’t imagine I’ve been quarantining on this room for the previous 14 days. I get a name from the workplace, saying that I can depart now. Shortly after, my mother texts me that she is right here. I look across the clear, empty room yet one more time, soaking in all of the reminiscences and emotions. Remembering these sleepless nights watching Korean meals mukbang, these weekends once I felt so sluggish and began dancing across the room, peaceable mornings watching the dawn with the sound of fishermen heading to work. Every day has been valuable and memorable with completely different dosirak.
As I drag my baggage right down to the elevator, there she is, my mother. And I give her the largest hug one human has ever given to a different. I’m certain of it. I thank the employees for all of the work they’ve finished, however particularly for the air fryer.
My mother and I take dozens of images across the quarantine facility, letting everybody in my household know that I’m free in spite of everything. We head to the seafood restaurant close by, recognized for serving spicy seafood stew with a complete crab on high, to rejoice our reunion.
We rejoice our reunion over a Korean-Chinese language feast.
We sit right down to a feast with crab fried rice, jjamppong (spicy seafood stew), crispy pork, and smiles. These are issues I’ve been dreaming about since I arrived on the airport. I see the steamy bowls of jjamppong coming to our desk, and as soon as they’re put down, I instantly take a sip of broth. It’s spicy, tangy, and blisteringly sizzling. “I’m so glad to eat with my son, lastly,” my mother says. I smile again at her and cross her my bowl of noodles. “Strive these too, mother. They’re so scrumptious.”
Join Eater’s e-newsletter
The freshest information from the meals world day-after-day