Yes, you read that correctly. Fish guts. And egg sacs. Together. In a bowl.
It’s called Altang, and it’s apparently a pretty popular soup in Korea; although I hadn’t heard of it until last weekend.
My friend Jason had invited me to spend the weekend at his house in a village two hours outside of Seoul. “I’m warning you, there’s absolutely nothing to do there,” he said. “But you have to see what I’ve been complaining about for the past year.”
“With the amount you’ve complained about it, it better be bad,” I replied.
Mold, no insulation, walls so thin you could hear the Chinese teacher’s Skype conversations (the school divided the house into two “apartments”) and a shower reminiscent of the one I used on a train in China.
Did I mention the house is on campus? Oh, and that it’s an hour away from a coffee shop?
“Well, at least there’s a good restaurant down the street,” Jason said. “You can try this soup they’re famous for: fish guts soup. My co-teachers ordered it for me my first week here.”
Jason, if you’re reading this, your school is testing you. The accommodation, the village, the soup. Get out now!
Ok, I know I’m being a bit dramatic. The soup wasn’t that bad. It’s just not something I’d want on my third day in Korea. Well, it’s not really something I’d want ever again.
It wasn’t the flavor. Give me a spicy fish stew any day. Throw in some bean sprouts, radishes, green onions and straw mushrooms, and I’ll lick the bowl. But add some pollock fish innards…
It looked like little brains and testicles floating in a broth of blood. And it tasted just as strange. The fish egg sacs (the things that looked like testicles) were like mealy hot dogs with a thick casing. The intestines (the things that looked like brains) actually reminded me of ramen noodles–pretty tasteless. Both had a strange smell that I still cannot put my finger on.
Jason looked at me, smiling. “I know, it’s strange,” he said. “But it’s something that grows on you. And since this is the nicest restaurant in town, I’ve had a lot of time to get used to the taste.”
All I have to say is, good luck to you, Jason. And congratulations for surviving a year in that village.