Friday, April 29, 2011

Deskwarming and Microsoft Paint

Koreans are magnetically attracted to foreigners. Physically, not metaphorically.

This happens consistently.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So this is what death tastes like....

Because my last post on food garnered such interest, I am here to entertain you with yet another food-related adventure. Ladies and gentlemen, I tried 홍어 (hongeo) last night.

To be fair, I was unknowingly tricked into trying it. I had heard of this food-horror before, and had planned to do my very best to avoid it at all costs. However, Koreans are sneakier than I had imagined.

My head co-teacher and her husband decided that Paul and I needed to be exposed to the most traditional Korean meal possible before we leave their beloved country, and the other English teachers were brought along. We hopped in the car and rode to what is unquestionably the most beautiful restaurant I have yet seen in Korea. We had a traditionally decorated room to ourselves, floor-chairs with backs to them (hooray!), and our own hanbok-clad hostess who took very good care of us waygooks the entire night. In the midst of this beautifully presented, tasty meal of more traditional Korean dishes than I could count, there appeared a three-part dish of steamed pork, kimchi and what looked to be a variety of fairly standard raw fish. The hostess put a slice of the fish on top of a slice of pork with a piece of kimchi in between and placed the protein sandwich on my little dish. I was worried about fitting the whole thing into my mouth, but that should have been the last thing on my mind. As I chewed, I discovered that this fish, whatever variety it was, was riddled with a strange kind of cartilage-bone that, while not quite as gag-inducing as other bony fish, was nevertheless quite unpleasant. And then it hit me. The overpowering, throat-searing, nostril-tingling, eye-watering sensation that someone had slipped one of those pink urinal cakes into my food, only without the chemical-flowery smell that normally goes with it. It was like chewing on a bony bottle of old-school desk cleaner. The ammonia taste and smell was overpowering. I have never swallowed such an enormous lump of food in such a hurry. It’s a wonder it didn’t get stuck and scorch a hole in my esophagus. Probably the only thing that saved me was the large quantity of makgoelli that I immediately poured down my throat.

I do not pee. I am a freak.
홍 어, as it turns out, is fermented skate meat. Skates (along with rays and sharks) apparently don’t pee. No kidneys, no bladder. They just excrete their waste through their skin. That means that when you ferment skate (or ray, or shark) meat, you end up with the equivalent of fish soaked in concentrated urine (ammonia). Now, who in their right mind decides to willingly eat that a second time, let alone feed it to unsuspecting Westerners?

Other than that little side show, the meal was quite lovely. The food was enjoyable, the company was good, and the conversation flowed as best it could between parties who don’t share a native language (rice wine is a very nice conversational lubricant). I guess it had to come with some little unpleasant shock, or I might risk being lulled into a false sense of security.

I have another English teachers’ dinner on Thursday with my visiting school. I’m rather hoping for a proper raw fish dinner. I will gladly eat multiple plates full of wiggling live octopus before I ever touch 홍어 again.