I knew my last meal in Korea had to be good; but what? Barbecue? One of the many soups I’d savored over my year-and-a-half stay? A rice dish? Seafood? I couldn’t decide. But lucky for me, I didn’t have to.
As a going away present, my friend Yong Kyu made reservations at a Korean royal cuisine restaurant so I could check off one of the last items from my Korean food bucket list: sinseollo. Sinseollo is a special type of hot pot once reserved only for royalty. It’s basically a mild broth with beef, egg, radish, mushrooms, walnuts, ginkgo nuts and a few other vegetables served in a fancy silver pot.
Writing this from an Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam, my hands are still shaking, my neck tense from fear.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with Anthony Bourdain. I’ve memorized every episode of No Reservations, feverishly flipped through each of his books, and am anxiously waiting for the day he discovers my blog and insists for me to be his younger, equally-as-charming co-host.
Before you freak and and think I’m a monster for eating 산낙지 (Sannakji), otherwise known as live octopus, let me tell you something: it’s not really alive. Well, it’s alive when it gets to the table, but then the server chops it up into bite-sized pieces. The pieces squirm around for about 20 minutes afterward.
To avoid any life-threatening consequences, you need to make sure to soak the tentacles in sesame oil and chew carefully.
I would write more, but I think the video says it all.
I’ve had plenty of hangovers while living in Seoul. Hell, I’ve had plenty of hangovers everywhere I’ve lived. But there’s something about drinking soju that really takes the next day’s headache and nausea to another level.
Thankfully the same people who created this evil alcohol also created a remedy for its wrath: haejangguk (해장국).
It amazes me that I’ve been here for a year and a half and am still discovering new dishes.
Last night, my friend Yong-Kyu took me to dinner in the Konkuk University area. “I want to take you to a restaurant I like, but I am nervous,” he said. “It might be too spicy. And if you don’t like it, my feeling is bad.”
I rolled my eyes. “Young-Kyu, it’s me you’re talking about. I like everything.”
Lunar New Year isn’t until next week, but that hasn’t stopped the parents from sending celebratory goodies for the past five days. Well, I shouldn’t say goodies; more like goody. There’s only one way to celebrate the Korean New Year, and it’s with tteok (떡).
Dotorimuk is basically mashed-up acorns that have been turned into Jell-O and dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil. It’s a very popular side dish in Korea, particularly among hikers…not so much foreigners.
Except for me, that is. I love this stuff. I pray for it to be part of the day’s school lunch. I cross my fingers that it’s served with dinner. I sometimes have dreams where I high dive into a pool of it, then paddle for hours with my mouth open until every drop is gone.
I spent the majority of Saturday afternoon in bed, pants unbuttoned, my sweater smelling of roasted duck. I wore an evil smile on my face.
I had finally tried the dish I’d been eyeing for a year and a half: a roasted Korean pumpkin, stuffed with yakbap (glutinous rice sweetened with honey or brown sugar, mixed with chestnuts, jujubes and pine nuts), on top of a whole roasted duck and caramelized onions.
My obsession with this dish started the week I arrived in Seoul; though I remember it like it was yesterday…
With only seven weeks left in Korea, I thought I’d want to stuff my face with as much kimchi as possible. And while I’m getting my daily fill of fermented cabbage, all I can think of is American food.
Well, let me clarify. I’m not sitting around daydreaming of Big Macs and french fries. I’m thinking about caesar salads. Enchiladas. Medjool dates. Goat cheese. Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. Hummus with warm pita. I could go on, but I’m writing this at a coffee shop, and I’m drooling. People are starting to stare.