Eating alone in Korea…

Means never eating BBQ.  Wah!

Restaurants in these parts tend to specialize in one thing or another, so there are beef restaurants, seafood restaurants, chicken restaurants, etc.  The beef restaurants all have the table grills at them.  The seafood restaurants have those aquariums with really gross creatures out in front, and the chicken restaurants look fried, fried, then fried again – and those serve like 6 pieces minnimum…So that leaves – not much to eat at.

On top of that, there aren’t any English menus and while they do post an occassional picture of the food on the wall, they aren’t on the menu, and the menu has about sixty more items than the three pictures on the wall…

I have avoided the street food simply because the Thai street food left me feeling greasy and catatonic and possibly sitting on the toilet a lot longer than I wanted to.  Yesterday, however, I broke down and had some shishkebob and it was good – except for a little gristle I had to spit out.  It was about 1,200 won so definitely what you want to do if you need some quick, cheap protein.  Most of the street food is fried – french fries, waffles, fried dough, etc.  Either that or fried rice cake on a stick, boiling in stock or duk-bokki, which is rice cake simmering in red pepper sauce.  Well, rice cake doesn’t give me that protein boost I need – so – street food is mostly out.  The waffles, I hear are to die for – but I’ve never been into sweets much.

The other day I bought some laver (oiled, roasted sheets of seaweed) at the grocery store.  I went to buy some sheets of it at the Emart, and a demonstration lady yelled at me that the cut up squares in her cans were better.  So I bought some and she was satisfied.  Turns out I am totally addicted to it.  This particular brand has the perfect amount of oil and salt and it melts in your mouth.   It’s too good to waste wrapping around rice.  It’s like eating buttered popcorn, only better, and better for you – with its trace minerals and green-nutrients.  Did I mention that it melts on your tongue? omg, it is sooooo good!

Surprisingly, I LOVE Korean bread!  At first glance it looks like wonder bread:  It’s light and white and probably totally devoid of any fiber or nutrients.  But something about bread made from that cake-like flour makes it extra good.  If you toast it and put a little butter and jam on it, it’s heaven.  Again, it just melts in your mouth, it’s lighter than air, and toasted it gets the most delicate crusty crunch to it.  Yummy.

Today I splurged and stopped at the local greasy spoon.  It’s one of the few places where single people walk in and eat.  I wanted this potato chicken stew I had at the Koroot adoptee guest house.  So I asked for chiggae (soup) and pointed to the check-off menu (similar to the kind you get at a sushi bar)  and she pointed to one area on the menu.  Then I asked for potato.  “Oh!”  She exclaimed Tay toe!  and ran off and ordered it for me.  The check mark she put on the menu was nowhere near the chiggae section, so I had zero idea what I would get.  Turns out it was thin-sliced beef, stir-fried with onions and cabbage, totally drenched in red pepper sauce.  I looked at the hanguel of the checked item, and in no way did it sound anything like tay toe…note to myself – must learn how to say stew, chicken, and potato…The only other foods I know are the mandu (filled dumplings), kim chee chiggae (soup), bi bim bop (vegetables, meat and egg on top of rice), and kim bap (like a sushi roll)  I’d like to try the other sixty things on their menu, but it will totally be a crap shoot, and the waitresses are in such a hurry, I don’t think I’ll get much of a pronunciation lesson from them, if today is any indication.

Itaewon, where Art showed me around the other day, which is also the Sodom & Gomorrah of Seoul and where the majority of the waygooks (foreigners) hang out has a plethora of restaurants with English menus.  Oh man – I have GOT to go back there and eat!  It’s really cosmopolitan there – you’ll see people from many parts of Africa, East Indians, Turkish, Lebanese, Phillippino, and caucasions from all over the world.  And all the food that goes with it.  There are also “large” sized clothing stores to accommodate them, and places you would recognize in the states, like Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, etc.  Even an all English book store.  It gets its reputation from all of the many clubs that cater to foreigners and American G.I.’s and the girls who service them and the boys and trannies who also service them.  And there is also a good police presense, due to the fights that break out afterwards.  Most of the clubs in Seoul close down at midnight because most of the girls live with their moms until they are married and have a midnight curfew.  But not in Itaewon.  But that’s by night.  By day, it’s a gastronomic feast and a place to go for the comfort of seeing familiar-looking faces (weird, I know – but caucasian faces are all I’ve known, so it IS comforting.

This is not food related, but my favorite place of all thus far is Hongdai. (don’t know if I’m spelling that right, or if I’ve mentioned it previously)  It’s just full of small kitchy places, boutiques, and alternative culture because it’s at the center of all the major universities.  And the scale is really nice.  Most buildings aren’t more than 6 stories high, and for some reason a lot of the shops have expanded a few feet out into the street, further reducing the scale of the place.  I’d love to live there some day.  It’s just more relaxing and pedestrian, as well as being a little less high fashion and more about lifestyle.

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