I asked for my snack and she started asking me lots of questions in Korean, which I answered yes to all of, while praying I wasn’t responding yes for added arsenic. So it came and it turned out to be fried pork covered in spicy sauce with a cocktail stick, served in a separate container to some lemonade, and with them piled up one top of each other.
I tasted the pork, which came drenched in a red and a yellow sauce, and it was tasty. It turns out I had said yes to “spicy” not arsenic and was suddenly in a panic as my mouth was burning up faster than Gaddafi’s air defence. Then the first bit of this genius snack hit me – I had lemonade mere millimetres away from my mouth. Wow, how refreshing, and it saved me valuable snack eating time. I then continued walking towards Katie’s when the next bit of snack genius hit me. I could easily use the cocktail stick to eat the pork when walking and still be carrying the soft drink in the same hand. Snack food has effectively evolved to the next level - in terms of ingenuity, it’s the snack equivalent of the development of the eye. I picture a time when marathon runners like Paula Radcliffe will no longer have to only drink water but will pick up a tasty chicken snack as well whenever they run past a drinks table. In fact Paula can also get a piss compartment attached to the bottom as well so no more embarrassing leaks on the street. She can just wee in her food Jenga pot.
All that for only 90 pence. I’m impressed and I can’t wait for the next stage of snack evolution… The hands free snack please.
As brilliant as that story was, I’m sure many of you are slightly disappointed by it, having more disturbing preconceptions of Asian food and a perverse desire to hear about our suffering. Well I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that your narrow minded generalisations of the East are not entirely unjustified. Although the majority of our dining experiences have rated somewhere between pleasant and orgasmic, we have had a few experiences that made our toes curl (in the bad way!). The first was relatively tame and came in the form of a small side dish of silkworm larvae…thanks Korea but I like my barbecue without pupae if it’s all the same to you. Actually, that reminds me of a rather odd bar snack we were given the other day. I should preface this story by saying that in Korea, if you go anywhere for a beer you are given a complimentary snack as standard – sometimes a bowl of crisps or pretzels, and sometimes it’s more extravagant like some breaded chicken strips.
Anyway, the time I am referring to, Dave and I ordered a pitcher of beer and it came with a bowl of miso soup, some chicken strips, some crisps and a bowl of shells. Yes, shells. As you can see in the picture below, these were in fact the very same seashells that she sells by the seashore, and I’m at a loss as to how or why you eat them! Needless to say we treated them the same was we treated the larvae – shoved them aside and tried to forget about them.
I’m sure some of you are wondering just how weak our stomachs are, if I felt the need to write an entry about a few harmless dead insects and crustaceans, but I’ve just been easing you into it – setting the scene with a few of Korea’s average snack foods. Now it’s time to take a peak into the reality of a Hangook kitchen, as we move from tame, to domestic…
So let’s go for a walk. About 5 minutes from my flat is a very interesting place called Gupo market – it’s pretty famous in Busan and sells just about everything; clothes, kitchen and household stuff, furniture, bedding and there is a whole section dedicated to food. Rows of fresh fish and other water-dwelling creatures, mountains of kimchi and seaweed, all kinds of pig parts and beef bits – it’s really quite amazing to see…although not so amazing to smell. Anyway, one day I decided to walk a different route to the shopping district and ended up walking past the back of Gupo market. As I came up to the market I was greeted with a strange smell (as happens so often in Korea) – turning my head to investigate, I was surprised to see a table, displaying chickens. Live chickens, I should say. I then noticed a cage next to said table, and in this cage were some goats. Curiouser and curiouser…walking further, I came across another cage, this time containing huge rabbits. What a strange thing to see at the side of a main road. I’m sure you’ve guessed where this is going so I’m just going to get to the point. There were dogs. In cages. Big, yellow dogs crammed into tiny metal cages, right at the side of the road. And next to these cages were refrigerated cabinets…you can work out what was in them.
I would like to mention here that these days, eating dog isn't that popular. In fact a lot of Koreans are embarrassed by the idea. But the tradition stems from the fact that there isn't much flat land on which to rear cows, sheep etc and when the country was much poorer, dogs were an easily obtainable source of meat. Now it's only really eaten by older, poorer people. The conditions the dogs are kept in is the really disturbing side and sometimes they are beaten and tortured before being butchered, because some believe that the meat tastes better when it is full of adrenaline.
Now, as a meat eater I feel it would be hypocritical of me to disapprove of eating one animal, but not another, and to be honest, I have little against the concept of eating these creatures (though obviously I’m not in favour of the poor conditions in which they are kept), but it was still quite shocking to see. Not from a moral perspective, as I’ve said, but it just looked…odd. A completely new experience for me and I found the whole thing both disturbing, confusing and fascinating. Yes, both of those 3 things…
Ok so they are the 3 foods we’ve seen but not eaten…now time for one we tried. First let me set the scene. It was a Friday night and Dave and I had decided to explore my local area. I live very close to a busy shopping district with loads of places to eat and drink and we spent ages trying to decide where to have dinner. In fact, there were so many options and we were so hungry that we eventually just picked a place at random. It was on the first floor of a building, with cute little booths that looked out over the street and were romantically lit and curtained off from the main restaurant. Perfect for a Friday night with just the two of us. Looking at the menu, it was a bit pricier than we had had in mind (7 pounds), but there were pictures and it looked yummy. Using my phrase book, we ordered something that had chicken in the name, a big pitcher of beer and a bottle of soju (a very popular Korean spirit that tastes like vodka and is great for putting in your beer!). The waiter warned us that the meal was really spicy, which always happens when a westerner orders anything in Korea. Yes we like chilli, yes it’s ok, spicy is good thanks, JUST BRING US FOOD! We were given crisps and a really tasty soup while we waited for the main, and we were starving so totally demolished both in minutes. Then it arrived. A big plate of onions, peppers and chicken in a spicy, sticky sauce. Or was it? “Erm Dave…that doesn’t look like chicken…I think it’s octopus”.
After poking around with a chopstick, I discovered what looked like lots of wobbly tentacles…so I started picking out the peppers and onions while Dave had a go at the mystery meat. I could see him struggling as it was so chewy and not exactly meaty. Oh and the sauce really was very spicy. Too spicy, actually. So while Dave chewed and discarded bits of tentacle, I got stuck into the drinks and thanks to my empty stomach, I soon had a nice buzz going. Dave was getting really agitated by the lack of meat on the plate, and you remember from previous posts that he’s not a big fan of paying for mistakes. Anyway, as I was poking around the plate I realised why it was so lacking in meat…it wasn’t octopus at all. We were sure we had ordered chicken, because we used the phrase book and it definitely said chicken and suddenly it all became clear – it was chicken…chicken feet! As soon as I voiced this discovery I couldn’t stop giggling and the whole thing was made even funnier by the fact that Dave was getting so angry about it! He was so hungry and grumpy and pissed off at the feet and I couldn’t stop laughing about it!
We couldn’t leave to get other food until we had finished the drinks and eventually he started to see the funny side. I mean come on, he’d been eating toes! I actually tried a bit and it was just chewy skin, completely lacking in sustenance. Anyway, once the pitcher was empty we headed to a fast food place for a couple of burgers and all the way home we were making jokes about licking chilli sauce off each other’s toes. What a perfect Friday night :)