Monday, June 04, 2007

It's a good resturaunt!

It was Monday afternoon. I was informed that there would be a school dinner for all the teachers on Wednesday night paid for by the parents association. The parents associated had been disbanded by the principal last year (she didn’t feel like dealing with them from what I understand) but had been reformed and was hard at work ingratiating itself to the new principal (I’m assuming to prevent disbanding). I normally try like the devil I am to get out of these things, but seeing as how I was having a rough week I figure, sure why not. I said yes.

It was Wednesday afternoon and I was in the middle of class when my phone started to ring. I checked the number, noted that it was the school and answered.

“Hi Sara, don’t forget dinner after class.”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

I turned back to the class which was busy playing an exciting game and we got lively. The phone buzzed again.

“Yes?”

“I just found out the restaurant.”

“Yes?”

“It’s a good Korean restaurant.”

“Yes?”

“Oh, you will like it.”

“Okay, what do they have for me to eat?” I was tired of waiting to find out about the resturaunt. The school knows I’m a vegetarian. They know I’m picky. They know I won’t eat it if it comes from a cow or a pig. I also know the school didn’t pick the resturaunt the parents association did. I’m pretty flexible and having been in Korea for five years fairly adept at getting food to eat when I’m hungry. I wasn’t too worried about it.

“Oh, wait. I have to get the menu, I’ll call back.”

“Okay.”

The class finishes up the game and I start going through our regularly scheduled activities. The phone rings again.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yes?”

“They are not in the phone book.”

“Okay. Is it a fish restaurant?” There is explosive nervous laughter from the other end of the phone. One of my favorite things about living in Korea is communication or the lack thereof. I know that the caller has been dancing around the restaurant issue and if I want to find out what dinner is before dinner I am just going to have to ask. Alas, one question is never enough.

“It isn’t a fish restaurant?”

“No.”

“Okay, so what is it?”

“It’s a very good restaurant.”

“Okay, what do they serve?”

“Oh, it’s a Korean steak restaurant.”

“Okay, what do they have that I can eat?” Because I live in Korea and because the Korean meal comes with the equivalent of a thousand sides there is almost a guarantee that there will be something there that I can eat without wanting to be ill. It’s just a matter of finding out what if anything I can order as a sort of entrĂ©e. The problem with dinner in Korea is that if I don’t have the big side dish part of the meal then everyone will think I haven’t eaten. And since I don’t eat rice anyway, everyone will think I’m dying or sick or going to die. So finding out what I can eat is important so I have a sense of what I need to be prepared to eat. This is also important in a country where the primary flavoring is red pepper and lots of it; to the point where nothing else matters. Actually, Koreans don’t really do subtle flavoring in foods. It comes in two varieties. Full of red pepper or so bland that you wonder if the cook was asleep. That’s it. There is no happy medium. It will either kill you and make your eyes water with the amount of red pepper that has been loaded in, or be so tasteless that you will wonder how Koreans learned to do boiled celery.

Seasonings, the subtle blending of flavors in food to create a taste or effect, do not exist in Korea. When you go to the market to get seasonings you can find several different varieties of red pepper or pickled pepper, or red peppers, and if your not sure what to put in your food there is an hajuma that will happily help you distinguish between just the right red pepper to properly season your food. Of course, if you don’t want to try any of that there is always red pepper. We like choice in Korea.

“So what can I eat?”

“I don’t know. I will call the resturaunt and get the menu.” Click.

I wait for it.

“Hello?”

“Oh, Sara, they are not in the phone book. I can’t call.”

“Yes.”

“Oh. So, you will come to dinner?” I’m always up for an adventure, I think.

“Sure, can you tell me please, what is the name of the restaurant?” Nervous giggles.

“Oh, the uh, well, the translation, it is, ah, it might not make sense.”

“That’s okay, I just want to know where we are eating.”

“Well, it’s a very good Korean steak house.”

“Yes, and what is the name of the restaurant?”

“Well, it’s not really a name, like American style name, it’s more like a Korean style name, more like a sentence, but it is good Korean steakhouse.”

“Yes, I understand, I’m sure I can eat chi-gay or something. What is the name, though?”

Lots of laughter.

“Okay?”

“Well, it’s name, it’s like, it means in English…ah…’We kill every hour,.”

“Uh, I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly. What was that?”

“We kill every hour.”

“We kill what every hour?”

“We kill cow ever hour. It’s just, it means it’s very fresh. A very good steakhouse.”

“Okay.”

Click.

I do love being a vegetarian in Korea. The chi-gay, red pepper broth with beans and tofu, was spicy.

7 comments:

Ipsofacto said...

Haha ! Enjoyable read.

It must be tough being a vegetarian here. I'm a meat eater and am still bored with the food here.

The strict dichotomy of "bland" and "too-hot-to-be-enjoyable" can only really be understood if you live here (although you manage to convey it rather nicely).

Looking forward to the next post.

Tony O. said...

We kill cow every hour! Now THAT is fresh for sure :) Great post and am glad I found you.

Stormdrane said...

If God didn't want us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat. ;P

Roger said...

Very good read Sara!!!

Saradevil said...

Being a veggie in Korea has it's challenges. I've been here long enough to come to terms with the occasional chicken, but mostly I don't eat meat. I've had many the hajuma explain to me, though, that pork is not a meat. I have, as of yet, refused to bite on that one.

Thanks for reading Tony, Stormdrane, and Roger!

swiftmonkey said...

I was a vegetarian for approx. 10 months straight... I've reverted back to being... well, a "flexitarian". I eat meat about 4-5 times in a month, but I mostly have a vegetarian diet (I do eat fish and eggs, though).

I'm apt to agree with you re: Korean food. It's either very spicy or bland. Growing up, my high school friends were mostly Korean and I got exposed to eating a lot of Korean food... so I know a little bit about it.

fruity @
fruityoaty.com

Saradevil said...

It's not easy to be a vegetarian in South Korea. However I can say in all honesty that I haven't had any pork or beef in ten years. A friend of mine convinced me to taste a bit of lamb a few weeks back but it didn't suit me at all, and I only took a nibble, but I don't think that counts.

That said, I do enjoy the occasional chicken as it does make it a little easier to live and eat in Korea while providing some diversity to the old diet.

If I were in the States, man, I'd kill for a Boca Burger or some Morning Star Chick Nuggets. It is much easier to go veg in the US then it is in Korea.

Thanks for stopping by.