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X Rated Foods – A Personal List of Korean Culinary Nasties

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, seafood by 노강호 on June 3, 2012

shite made pretty

If you can eat a MacDonald’s burger you should be able to eat anything. However, the grey, dry, tasteless shite that comprises  a Mac patty, which according to the docu-movie Food Inc, may contain mechanically rescued meat sludge from as many as a thousand different carcasses, is masked by pickles, sauce, mayonnaise and other gubbings. I often hear people declare a Mac burger to be ‘delicious’ and instantly know they’ve probably never eaten a real beef burger in their life. A real burger tastes of meat, it is slightly pink and it is succulent. If you asked for a burger steak in a restaurant and were served a pallid, dry Mac patty you’d probably complain because void of distractions such as tomatoes and mayonnaise, a Mac patty clearly does not contain meat as we know it. Indeed, separate the individual components of a Mac burger and their ersatz quality is exposed. The bun, pumped full of air, can be squeezed into the size of a dice and the cheese is totally cheese-less and useless for making cheese-on-toast – believe me – I’ve tried! Mac ‘food’ is a triumph of science in which assembled components, all individually tasteless and inferior, combine to satisfactorily tingle all the important sensory receptors. I’m quite sure if most of us were to witness the mechanically rescued process and the gullies of meat slurry slopping through stainless steel channels, we’d never eat a Mac burger again. But with the tweaking of science, shite, especially when it’s decorated in pretty boxes and wrappers, given brand imagery with accompanying little plastic toys on which kids are weaned and where burgers are mutated into cartoon characters led by a clown, can be somewhat satisfying. A lot of R and R, little of it culinary, has gone into the success of  Mac food and I have to agree, that while they can be highly satisfying (the right: temperature, balance between salt and sugar, just enough oil, the combination of different mouth-feels for whatever components are in the burger etc, etc,) they are never delicious. Indeed they are a simulacrum of a burger, of food!

And so, while I can easily enjoy a Big Mac, all the horrors of production, which should really make me gag, hidden from me, there exists a large menu of Korean foods that despite their honesty, I simply cannot eat.

Here’s my list of X-rated Korean foods that I personally avoid:

13. Chickens-arse – ddong-jip (똥집) – except it’s not really arse at all but the gizzard. Koreans always delight in trying to shock you with this food but the fact is that as a fan the ‘parson’s nose’ (pygostyle), that fleshy protuberance  at the very back-end of a chicken or turkey which twitches every time the animal has a shit or gets excited, the ddong-jip is lame. If you like the parson’s nose, and as a boy my family competed for it at Sunday dinner, you’re eating portion a of a chicken or turkey much more equated with anuses and poop than the gizzard.

chewy

12. Intestine – mak-chang (막창) – chewy and tasty but the thought of it being part of the poop-shoot is always too overpowering to allow me to enjoy it. Actually, mak-chang is almost an enormous ‘dog dick’ (see number 11). The dislike is of course cultural because in British food intestines are always integral ingredients in sausages and pork pies, especially the working class pork pie – and as such are minced and hidden.

and chewy, again

11. Gae-bul (개불) – commonly known as ‘dog-dick’ in Korean. This is chewy, rather like squid or octopus and has little or no taste other than the sesame oil in which it is often drizzled. What makes them particularly memorable is the fact they actually look like turgid penises and before you eat them you usually have the pleasure of seeing them squirm about in the tank before their being slaughtered. The gae-bul is basically a piece of rubber tubing with a mouth at one end and anus at the other.

What happens to a ‘dog-dick’ when squeezed. Incidentally, they are eaten raw

10. Sea Squirt (멍게) – I’ve written about this bloated monstrosity before. They are a mucous mess of bright, glistening colours, most notably orange, if there’s one food which comes close to resembling a tumour, this is it but I have two Western friends who actually find them delicious and ironically, both, unlike me, never eat Mac Shite!

An interesting medley of ‘dog-dick’ and sea-squirt

9. Spinal column soup (뼈다귀감자탕) – I guess there isn’t anything too revolting about this but I never enjoy it. There is something disquieting about eating what it basically an offshoot of the brain and which carried all the animals’ motor commands. A few weeks ago it happened to be my turn to pay for lunch and the unfortunate choice of my friends was spine-soup! I quite hated having to pay 70.000 Won (£35) for a meal I hardly touched – but they loved it!

the actual soup is delicious but I have a psychological barrier with the spine

8. Chicken feet (닭발) – well, there’s a distinct lack of any meat on a chicken’s feet. Instead, you’re rewarded with a mouthful of little bones, bits of claw and hard skin. Worse, is the thought the chickens spend most of their life traipsing over the shit of other chickens.

crunchy

7. Dog stew (보신탕) – I’ve eaten this several times and there’s nothing unpleasant about it. However, it’s hard to swallow if you love dogs!

6. Silk worm cocoon (번데기) –  mmmm… the taste of damp soil followed by shards of exoskeleton and embryonic antennae which lodge themselves between your teeth. And that steamy, nauseous smell!

and the smell is just as bad

5. Midoedeok (미더덕) – horrible. First, I still don’t really know what they are or whether they are animal or vegetable. If the dubious greeny-brown colour and ultra smooth texture experienced by your tongue is not enough to put you off, the sour, detergent like substance spurting into your mouth when compressed between your teeth, will.

chewy and revolting

4. Raw beef (육회) – well, perhaps not the worst of experiences but personally, I like beef at least singed by a little heat before consumption.

totally raw

3. Raw ray fish (홍어) – probably the most disgusting smelling food I’ve ever eaten and I know plenty of Koreans who find it repulsive. A mouthful of smelling-salts, a stinging assault of pungent ammonia, best describes this ‘delicacy.’ Apparently, ray fish urinate through their skin and when fermented the smell is intensified. It is suggested you eat this food while breathing through the mouth and out the nose.

the most hideous stink

2. Raw liver and raw tripe, simply ghastly!

unlike a Mac Monstrosity burger, the detraction is simply a sprinkle of sesame

And the winner –

Boiled lung – so far I’ve eaten everything above, but this is one Korean ‘nasty’ I’m not going to taste. Not only does it look gross, like a great bluey-brown clump, but there is a lack of any sauce to mask what it really is.

Of course, the ghastliest food of all is a Mac Burger simply because you haven’t the least idea exactly what it comprises. I imagine the flesh is mechanically rescued from every part of the animal – eye lids, lips and all!!! However, disguised and nicely packaged, the sludge of a thousand cattle can be surprisingly satisfactory.

one of my favorites, raw crab

By the way – I’ve still to try eating live octopus (산 낙지) and grasshopper (메뚜기). Other weird foods, such as raw crab (게장), acorn curd (도토리묵), jellyfish (해파리) and sea cucumber (해삼), I enjoy.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
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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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