Elwood 5566

Food to Put Hair on your Chest

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Gender by 노강호 on September 14, 2010

Klingon Gourmet – Food to put hair on your chest! Raw stomach and liver!

‘Klingon’ was how I used to describe Korean food in my first six months of living in Korea. I’m sure many of  the first Koreans I met, and probably everyone meets on their initiation into Korean culture,  enjoyed taking me to places where eating was either a trial or simply difficult. Everything seemed to be either raw, alive, recently butchered, or some part of the animal associated with intestines or anuses. Even the infamous dog stew is almost an English Sunday dinner in comparison to some of the ‘Klingon’ menu. I’ve eaten dog meat twice under the assumption it was another meat and masked by copious soju,  was unaware. Not the same can be said for some of the other foods which would chill your spine in all but the most extreme states of intoxication. And if the initiation to Korean cuisine isn’t focused on eating as a test of will power, basically of suppressing revulsion, getting it into your mouth is problematic.

No matter how good a westerner’s chopstick skills are, eating a bowl of noodles without a splash zone encompassing anyone sat at adjacent tables, is difficult. Usually, it’s the final little suck that whips them into the mouth and flips soup broth over yourself and your neighbours.  Eating noodles is an art and Koreans only have to purse their lips as if kissing, for the noodles to levitate into their mouths. Only Koreans seem able to eat noodles so effortlessly and without actually sucking and hoovering them. Eating buckwheat noodles, traditionally eaten chilled in a broth, in the summer, is weird. If I didn’t cook naengmyon (냉면) myself,  I would assume the noodles were several meters long because as you start to suck them up, more and more are dragged up into your mouth. Naengmyon must be the only food where one end arrives in your stomach as the other end is leaving your bowl.

Barfing up ectoplasm? No, but a great photo which captures the art of eating buckwheat noodles. Once you start you can’t stop!

But there are stranger foods for the ‘gourmet’ and the naive to ‘stumble’ upon: Sea squirt (멍개), the Jekyll and Hyde of Fruit de la mare, has flesh which is beautifully orange and inviting, resembling a juicy peach but the outside looks more like a biological hand grenade genetically modified from a bloated tumour.  The detergent taste of its flesh certainly cleanses your palate as does the watery bile from the innards of the closely related, styela clava, midoedoek ((미더덕), which I’d trade for a silkworm cocoon or spoonful of dog-stew, any day. Then there’s ‘dog dick’  (개불 – Urechis unicinctus), which resemble large pink worms and which you’ll enjoy far more if you haven’t witnessed them in their living state. The rubbery bodies are tasteless but coated in sesame oil, they slip down the gullet with ease.

the vegetable-leaf wrap (쌈) typifies much of Korean eating

Raw fish, often killed at your table or within sight, is a mild experience, though I have to put a tissue over the heads of fish when their eyes twitch manically as they are being slowly sliced to death. And raw meat thinly sliced and eaten in a similar style to the fish, that is wrapped in various leaves (쌈) with kimchis, garlic and chili, is fairly tolerable; at least you haven’t watched the cow being slaughtered but raw liver and stomach are certainly not my choice for a delicious meal. I ate raw stomach pissed and nearly gagged and the liver I mistakenly took for acorn curd (도투리묵). In the restaurant’s lighting the colours weren’t so distinguishable.

Raw liver (생간) prettied up with sesame seeds…

acord curd (도투리묵) sprinkled with sesame seeds

If you like healthy snacks, nothing could be more natural and packed with protein than silk worm cocoon (번데기). Indeed, the silk worm was an important food along the silk routes though Chinese silk worm is generally much larger than the type eaten in Korea.

Chinese silk worm snacks – meaty!

Being pissed helps swallow this delicacy and a chaser of soju or  beer will purge the mouth of the muddy flesh but will do little to remove the aftertaste which incidentally, tastes exactly like the smell they exude while being steamed. A toothpick is a necessary to dig out the numerous shards of exoskeleton that lodge between the teeth. In reality, eating this should be no different from eating a prawn or shrimp but of course the dislike is cultural and as Herodotus said, Nomos is king of all.

you can definitely taste the land in the flesh of a silk worm (Korean silk-worm)

Not my bag!

Grasshopper (메뚜기), coated in red pepper paste (고추장) is another crunchy, healthy snack and I know a few students, usually boys, who eat these and silk with as much enthusiasm as many kids eat candy. However, cultural chasms are narrowing and this year a London pizza restaurant started serving a grasshopper topping.

How to ruin a good pizza. All the rage? I don’t think so.

After a line up of insects, barbecued intestines (막창) are un-adventurous, especially after a soju and even the infamous chicken’s arse hole (똥집),  in reality the gizzard which functions as a secondary stomach, or chicken feet (닭발), are palatable.

Chicken feet, (닭발), spend most of their life walking on shite and where’s the meat?

For a real experience, you can try saeng-nakji (생낙지), small octopuses swimming in a sea of sesame oil and swimming they are as they are still alive. Whether it is urban myth I am unsure, but apparently, a small number of people choke to death every year from octopi which refuse to go down without a fight.

Nakji (the small octopus) often eaten alive.

I love black pudding but some cultural obstacle stops me enjoying, sun-ji-guk (선지국) which is basically soup made with blood. Sundae (순대), is pig intestine sausage stuffed with noodle and vegetables but I find it difficult to eat perhaps because it often appears in small road side stalls accompanied by pigs intestines, and boiled lung. Most of the food you’d class as ‘Klingon’ are the types of food Koreans believe increase a man’s virility, ‘put hair on your chest,’ and are usually predominantly eaten by men (and in some cases boys). Korean food tends to leave you either in a cold sweat or totally impartial and so many examples are simply – ‘okay,’ or as Koreans might say, ‘just’ (그냥). Personally, I don’t think Korean food rates alongside Cantonese, Thai, Indian or Mexican, but there is nonetheless something alluring and fascinating about it.  However, one shouldn’t  think their culture aloof, I can remember, as a boy, eating pig feet and distinctly recall the bristly hairs on the shins that tickled your chin as you gnawed the meat. I can remember my mum cooking tripe, probably the only meal she cooked which I couldn’t eat and occasionally, I’d arrive home on Saturday afternoon to the welcome of a pig’s head bobbling in a pot as my father prepared brawn.  When I was still a teenager I can remember traversing Limassol, Cyprus, trying to find a restaurant that served cow brain, a supposed local delicacy. Thank-god I never ate it! Most of the food we would class as ‘gross,’ we unwittingly eat,  pulverised  to a paste in potted meats,  formed into patties or luncheon meats or destined to appear in those famous anatomical dumping grounds, the pork pie and the sausage.

Like northern English black-sausage

But don’t worry, alongside the foods fit for a full-blooded Klingon, are the burgers, pizza and  fried chicken we waygukin love so much. Burgers, I can leave; I don’t trust them and the patties just don’t look like meat. At least with Korean ‘horror food’ you know exactly what you are eating, a silk worm is a silk worm but in the modern food industry, typified by the USA and Europe, knowing exactly what your food consists of is becoming both a secret and a rapidly disappearing right. And have you noticed when eating Korean pork, that it doesn’t drown the barbecue in water…?

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Curds (묵) – Monday Market

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on July 6, 2010

Stunted by the rocky soil, you will rarely see an Oak as magnificent as those found in England

A few years ago a former boss took  me to lunch at restaurant, the usual formality for talking shop and often a sign that your schedule is about to change or that you’re going to be asked to do something not in your contract. Other than it was ‘Klingon’ in style, I can’t remember what we ate. My first encounter with any form of Korean food was in 1997 when I visited several restaurants in both Hong-Kong and Manilla and I can’t remember too much about those experiences either other than there being many side dishes, one of which was some strange, but inoffensive jelly-like food served in slices.

Acorn curd - 도토리묵

Enjoying many Korean foods are dependent on an acquired ‘taste.’ Kimchi, for example, both stinks and tastes pretty gross to most people first time, but with continued exposure one begins to realise the subtle variations between different kimchis.  Eventually you begin to develop a preference for one particular form of kimchi. In one sense the multi-faceted aspects of kimchi, the combinations of heat (chilli), saltiness, sourness, tartness, sweetness, the viscosity of the sauce,  the fracturability of the cabbage, the blend and persistence of fish sauce, garlic and ginger, the aroma, and these are only some of the features, make its enjoyment every bit as sophisticated as that of wine.

Supermarket curds - more expensive and watery than the market varieties.

While kimchi has taste there are a number of Korean foods which are tasteless and which on first exposure prompt the question, ‘why?’  Most first timers to Korean cuisine, for example, will find those watery soups ornamented with a few strands of bean sprout, totally pointless until you realise the way intermittent spoonfuls cleanse the palate and transform the texture of rice in the mouth.  A few Korean foods initially have no taste at all but if persevered with, an appeal begins to develop. Other foods, such as cold noodles (냉면) require exposure to the energy draining Korean summers to initiate an appeal much in the same way Pimms No 1 does in the UK. I can no more enjoy a Pimms No 1 in winter than I can cold noodles. And then there are those seemingly pointless curds or jellies.

In the restaurant with my boss, and amidst some of the Klingon delicacies, was a plate of what looked like the jelly thing I’d last eaten in a Korean restaurant in Hong-Kong. Sliced into slippy cubes, I remembered the dexterous chopstick skills required  to pick it up; too much pressure on the cube and it is cut in two and too little and it flops onto the floor or cascades down your shirt. My boss was quite impressed, in fact he was very impressed, but not with my chopstick skills, more with the fact that I’d just eaten a slice of raw liver! That too was tasteless but there is a limit to how far I want to go initializing new appreciations and raw offal is not really one of them.

Acorn curd (도토리묵) in the market

Curds or jellies appear in various guises and while they are fairly tasteless, their appeal lies in their texture which in the context of a Korean meal with numerous side dishes, can be ‘interesting.’ The most common curd is probably acorn (도토리묵) and it is often accompanied with a tangy soy based sauce. (도토리묵 무침). Personally, I find the market produced curd both cheaper and tastier looking than the somewhat more watery-looking packeted varieties produced by supermarkets. On more than one occasion I have muddled my Korean words and asked for ‘eagle curd’  (독수리묵).

Buckwheat curd mu-ch'im (메밀묵 무침)

Other curds include:

Buckwheat (메밀묵) which is often slightly heavier in texture

Supermarket seaweed curd (미역묵)

Black rice

Mung Bean (녹두묵)

Yellow Mung Bean (노랑묵 or 황보묵) this version, coloured with gardenia, is traditionally associated with the Cheolla province.

Curds are fairly easy to make and powders can be bought in most supermarkets.

Acorn powder

Acorn curd in particular is seen as a very healthy food and is believed to be beneficial in weight loss. Not a great surprise really as I doubt anyone would want to eat it alone and it’s hardly a food to pig out on! It probably has the same diet potential  and calorific content as water! The Korean company Skinfood market an acorn face pack. If you are keen to start investigating the secret power of acorn, here is a jumping off point….

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.