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…?

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Hanyorum – High Summer (한여름)

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, Quintesentially Korean, seasons by 노강호 on August 25, 2010

Hanyorum in Daegu - stifling!

Hanyorum (한여름) is the period of high summer and generally occurs in early August when the changma (장마) has moved North into Manchuria. Hanyorum is typified by high temperatures, reaching 38 degrees Fahrenheit, (100 degrees Celsius), in the afternoons and hot and humid nights.

One characteristic of hanyorum is the appearance of crickets (귀뚜라미), though you are more likely to hear them than see them. I both saw and heard  crickets yesterday (August 24th), though they may have been chirping earlier than this. Crickets differ from grasshoppers (메뚜기) in that they are nocturnal and the song of both differ from the omnipresent scream of the cicadas (매미).

A cicada - or memi (매미). The sound of summer!

Grasshoopers (메뚜기), which some Koreans enjoy eating, are diurnal insects and their chirp is often drowned by the memis’ summer shriek, so you need to listen carefully to hear them. Their chirp is more noticeable when there is a lull in the memi scream. They are bright or vivid green, have antennae which are always shorter than their body, and long wings which when in flight are often coloured.

Grasshopper - (메뚜기). Mmmm- delicious!

Crickets (귀뚜라미), are nocturnal and as such require darker camouflage, usually pale green or brown. Their antennae are often the equivalent length of their abdomen and have atrophied or even absent wings and hence, do not fly. They also have ears located on their legs in the form of a white spot or mark. In hanyorum, the chirping of crickets (귀뚜라미) fill the evening air and as such they chirp at lower temperatures than the memi. While memi (cicadas) start screaming at 29 degrees Celsius, the cricket will chirp at cooler temperatures, as low as 13 degrees Celsius. Using Dolbear’s Law (based on Snowy Tree Crickets), it is possible to work out the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit by counting a cricket’s chirps over 14 seconds and adding 40. An interesting if not useless equation unless you happen to have a cricket in isolation, but on one or two occasions, I have had one chirping inside my ‘one room.’

Cricket (귀뚜라미). The clearly visible ears, located on the legs, and absence of wings distinguish it from the grasshopper.

Interesting links and sources:

Telling a grasshopper from a cricket

Fahrenheit 84 – the memi

Grasshoppers

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

An Interlude of Insects

Posted in Animals, Health care, Nature, seasons by 노강호 on April 11, 2010

A memi

The memi; every summer there’s one hiding near whichever window is open. Of course, it could be a cricket type thing.  I always forget which one sings first in the year and which last. Koreans never seem to know either and if I ask I’m even more confused.  I think I generally fathom it out by October, by the time they’re all dead,  but when spring comes back, I’ve forgotten. ‘Listening to the Locust,’ well I like the alliteration but locusts are too much like cockroaches and ‘Listening to the Gweedorami,’ too off track. Last year I remember hearing a memi almost at the end of Autumn. I came over all nostalgic as it must have been the last memi of the year – (but maybe it was a cricket thing!) It’s solitary chirping was quite pathetic as there were no other memi chirping back. I know they’re ugly but what a bum way to go!  Do they hibernate? A  memi is a cicada but I never know how to pronounce the word and of course, we don’t have them in Britain, so they’re a little special.

I saw my first cockroach of the year last week. It was freaking big. It was late afternoon and with the kitchen window open, the warm afternoon temperature, which obviously coaxed it from  its hidey-hole, had dropped and stranded it, almost frozen, on the wall. I didn’t look at it too long as I was expecting it to scuttle away but I saw it long enough to notice that despite its length, about 3 cm, it looked quite gaunt. I rapidly picked up a floor brush and bashed it on the wall but the bristles hit it and it fell to the floor where it lay on its back dazed. Between the fridge and wall, this horrid piece of God’s creative genius, was almost safe, it only need drag itself a few centimeters to be under the fridge, but the fall and cold were taking their effect and I had just enough time to grab my spray can – unused since last year. I pointed the nozzle between the space by the fridge. There it was,  with those revolting antennae bibbling and bobbling, trying to hide behind the electric cable. I’ve noticed the spray works excellent on flies and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes drop almost instantly, dead after a few twitches, while those big fat flies which Koreans so aptly call ‘Shit Flies,’ fly around for a minute before nosediving into the floor where they suddenly go all spastic-spasm and then stop – dead!  Sometimes they’ll lie still for several seconds and then buzz crazily back into life, usually whirling round  on the floor like they’ve been hit by the most enormous dose  of amphetamine. Then, dead, they stop for good. But the cockroaches, you can spray them and they simply run away. Even neat bleach doesn’t seem to affect them. I don’t think the spray really works unless you spray so much on them they drown. If it wasn’t for the fact the spray kills  other insects I might think it simple water. So, cornered and behind the power cable, I spray the thing so hard it’s blown onto its back where it sticks  to the wall, weirdly cruciform. I didn’t stop spraying until I knew it couldn’t escape.  I left it down there for a day, until it had dried and fallen from its sticking place, then I swept it out, chucked it in the sick, and washed it away. Even though it didn’t touch any of the stainless steel, I tipped a whole kettle of boiling water down the sink hole to purge its passage.

Kill 'em! (click-pic for company site)

In class, kids tell me never to splat them as if it’s a female it can deposit eggs and I know they carry an egg sack, even that sounds revolting, an ootheca. They also tell me they can crawl back up sinks and climb out of toilets and that microwaving them is the best method of disposal. Would you want to heat your toasty in the microwave after baking a roach in it?  I’ve now strategically placed roach (Combat)  stations all around my flat. I only saw about 8 roaches  last year and know they were coming under my front door, from outside.What fucking planet was God on when he designed a bloody cockroach?  That’s an animal absent from ‘All things Bright and Beautiful!’

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Useful information on cockroaches and their control.

Combat Website