So, like most food adventures in Korea, we set out with good intentions of enjoying a delicious, yet fully immersive in its authenticity, Korean meal. However, I’ve found that when you make a plan in Korea, you better plan every detail down to the Korean spelling of everything you want or need, or suffer the crippling consequences of the ever present language barrier. Of course, this situation proves the inevitability of the latter circumstances.
It was a full Sunday of relaxing and tandem biking on the Han and we, Jessica, Amy and I, were hungry for some Korean barbeque. For those of you who don’t know, it’s downright amazing. Each table has its own grill of sorts (once we even had fresh hot coals) and you order plates of meat and grill them at your table. In addition, you grill garlic, kimchi, and sometimes there is this amazing bean sprout salad that I am obsessed with. You then wrap your delicious and freshly grilled meat, garlic, sauce, and sometimes kimchi, in a piece of lettuce and eat it. YUM. It’s always been a secure and delicious eating experience for us here. Never more than about 14,000 ₩ or about $14 dollars, you get a delicious, deluxe, and usually generously portioned meal.
Expecting that delicacy, we ventured for this place (or so we thought) one of our managers had pointed out to us as delicious just days before. We do the whole miming charade to communicate that we would like to sit outside and all seemed to be well. There’s no menu, of course Korea, so the woman working there just tells us a bunch of stuff in Korean and basically orders for us, as is typical of our lives here.
What was presented next is something really only a live viewing could do justice, but my words will have to suffice in this case. There was the usual and familiar array of small dishes of sauces and even the bean sprout broth soup we have come to know and tolerate. The strange part was there was a giant bowl of green onion slices and stranger still, a plate of something that looked like saucy chopped liver and raw chunks of baby squids.
Now, I am not a prototypical picky eater but I am also not extremely adventurous when it comes to foods. I’ve eaten fresh raw oysters, I’ve sucked out crawfish brain juice, I’ve eaten alligator, and I’ve even eaten guinea pig. That’s about as Anthony Bourdain as I’ve gone. The raw squid honestly didn’t even weird me out too much even though I chose to stay away this time, namely because it’s Korea and raw may equal dirty, sorry, it’s all I know at this point. With a little post facto googling, I found out that plate had cows liver, stomach lining and kidney pieces, all meant to be eaten raw. Little did we know, the real delight hadn’t yet appeared before us.
The grill plate that showed up next was unlike any other we had seen before, there was a huge heap of onions, a few pieces of beef, a couple of chunks of potatoes, and in the center, was the star. Tons of little chunks of mystery meat that looked coated in some kind of fried batter filled the entire middle of the grill plate. Trying to be optimistic about our unfamiliar new meal, we deemed the meat to be pork and Amy and I simultaneously tried a piece. As I chewed, I observed the rest of the remaining pieces. It occurred to me that they were in fact tubular in shape and extremely chewy in texture and a horrifying idea arose. I blurted out, “I think it’s little tubes, oh my goodness, I think it might be…” When Amy cut me off and said, “Just push through.”
In fact, with a little google searching, the soondae we had ignorantly ordered turned to be everything that I had been afraid to admit to myself: pork small intestines. Wikipedia “verifies” that in South Korea, it is common to eat pork small intestine slices with vegetables, in a style similar to Korean barbeque self-serve grilling. I am here to say that what difference there is, it is extremely significant and as devastating a realization as it was to find out we had just consumed intestine pieces, the real shock was the 42,000 ₩ tab. That’s roughly 42 USD, or in other words, a giant slap in the face when you’ve just barely picked at the least appetizing meal of your life.
After refreshing ourselves with some less adventurous food and partially recovering from the sticker price of our “dinner”, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and say that we were probably way overdue for a cultural faux pas anyhow; Korea had been too nice to us recently and we had fooled ourselves into thinking that we could get away with it. Touché Korea, well played.
p.s. While I considered taking pictures of the ordeal or even taking pictures from the internet to use as visual aids, in the end I thought it best to leave them out for the sake of all of your digestive systems. If you are daring or just super curious, google: Korean offal and don’t say I didn’t warn you.