Following my strange illness last week, which was wonderfully cleansing and slimming, has been an unprecedented amount of eating…
First the steak dinner, and the following day a meal welcoming the new teachers. The restaurant ran the length of a hotel water-front. One room wide, glass on both sides, it must have been 50 yards long, with stunning views of the Han and the mountains. First sashimi, then broiled eel, then tempura’d shrimp, then stewed fish, then bulkogi, then seafood soup and oranges for dessert.
The incredibly elegant electronics teacher kept going from table to table pouring soju and chatting. (I think the five technical teachers with their two private offices get a little lonely) I told him he was a social butterfly, and everyone got a kick out of that expression. It’s almost Asian in its poetry, yet easy to understand. When I saw people leaving but my co-teacher, who lives in Seoul, staying, I had to ask her how I would get home. So she waved me in the direction of a group of teachers already queuing to get into a van. Good thing I asked!
I declined on the eel and only ate one battered shrimp, so managed to walk out of there still feeling human. Most Koreans I meet are so battle-of-the-bulge conscious that they don’t over-eat during meals, but at these banquet-type functions the eating is usually epic proportions almost to the level of Roman binging…The end of the year Bar B-Q was so gluttonous I couldn’t even bear to look at it anymore and had to leave early. I mean, I’d consumed enough meat for two at that function, and we were only through the first two courses of several different kinds of meat…I think it’s because meat is so expensive here and when it’s on someone else’s dime, you might as well eat ’til you’re sick.
Then it’s back to the school lunches with its carb-rich comfort food. I also really like the school’s kimchi, which is very bright and what I imagine the blog reader David’s kim chi recipe tastes like. Somehow this week I got lazy and have eaten dinner out (night school and school dinners don’t start until next week) every night. I really need to cut back. Anyway, I’m taking in double what has become normal…and the pants are tight.
I did take the new bike to school Friday. Getting to school was a breeze, except for one little slope. Getting home was not such a breeze. Those hills are deceptively steep, especially the last one to my apartment, and I am in incredibly bad shape..and can’t make it and have to get off…and I’m normally too much of a weenie to do anything physical, yet I imagine I’ll take the bike often because I run behind in the mornings, and cutting my time to school in half will suck me in…My gluts are not happy with me right now.
Anyway, tonight I went to the little family tofu restaurant by my apartment where I always go. I usually order dubu kim chi and take half of it home for another meal, or I get dubu jeon gol, which is tofu & veggies stewed in a broth with a little fermented soy bean paste. Half way through that dish tonight I eyed two bikers eating something with fresh lettuce and vegetables in it. It looked like bi bim bap from my vantage point, only I didn’t see that on the menu. So I asked the ajumma what it was, and instead of just the name before I knew it I had a SECOND meal being served to me. Isn’t that the way it goes when you try to cut back?
Anyway, I am totally in love with this dish, and I’ll probably order it all the time now. It’s called 도토리묵밥 (dotorimuk bap) and it’s acorn jelly in some broth (have NO IDEA what that broth is, but it seems vegan) dressed with fresh veggies, lettuce, and kochujang paste, similar to bi bim bap, only with all that liquid, served at room temperature.
So yummy! I love the Korean dishes that more resemble salad. (the one I ate had a lot of lettuce in it too) So this is a light, low-calorie, bright dish that is zesty and refreshing. And the rice comes on the side, so you can make it as bap-full as you want.
This is my other favorite dish, only I don’t know where to get it in my town: It’s called 회덮밥 (hoe deot bap) and it’s basically a bi bim bap, (rice mix) but with sashimi. I keep my mixing shallow, and then I can avoid half the rice.
I will definitely miss the food when I leave this place. What’s sick and wrong is that a single person only experiences a tenth of what is offered, so I may never know just how good or bad it gets. My gyopo friend says she’s sick of Korean restaurant food, because it’s over-salted and carelessly put together. I wish I could experience home-made Korean food on a regular basis. I wonder how many Korean kids do experience that these days, what with eating meals at school like I do.
Oh yeah, that reminds me – the reader David told me “poja” was the wrong thing to say when you ask to take home leftovers. But actually, that’s what the ajummas ask me, so I think it IS the standard way to ask. My gyopo friend says that sometimes people here think she is rude because of her American Korean. She says that it’s kind of stuck in a time warp. She says that American Korean doesn’t have as many pleasantries in it as contemporary Korean in Korea does, which has changed a lot in the last twenty years due to raised consciousness about commerce and customer service. So maybe I can speculate that wrapping up your food like a present is a poetic euphemism that’s a newer usage.
Meanwhile, it seems like the white dog (who barked a lot) is missing next door at the tulli-shaped house. A couple months ago he got a second dog, a mottled mutt, but I’ve only seen him by himself this week. Yesterday, the ajosshi sat all day stoking the fire under his house. Maybe he was making dog virility broth…Honestly, I don’t know how that elderly couple survives, since their farm really isn’t big enough to be commercially viable. Also, I haven’t heard the turkey. Moving here I was afraid the roosters would wake me up, but I don’t hear them at all. Only around Christmas I started hearing the gobble of a turkey, and it drives me insane. Only now that, too, is silent. I never thought of farms in terms of sounds and the absence of sounds before. It’s enough to make me turn vegan, only that’s really hard when you’ve got low blood sugar and you also have no idea what you’re eating a quarter of the time.