i came to korea a vegetarian, and i could very well end up a vegan back in the states, but in the mean time, i eat whatever.
there are a few reasons for this.
when i first arrived i would walk the streets trying to find food. of course, there is tons to eat in korea, but wanting to stick to my veggies, i didn't want to just order anything. so the language barrier was a gigantic issue. also, koreans don't quite grasp the concept of vegetarian. there are numerous stories of people telling their koreans co-teachers, or whomever, they are vegetarian only to the get a pizza with ham on it and they saying, "look, vegetarian!". add to this that seemingly vegetarian things, like kimche dumplings, have pork in them and it was quickly a war that i couldn't win. or at least for now. in addition to those practical problems, i was also thinking about a conversation i had with steve z before i came over. steve is a vegetarian and stuck to it when he went to france to visit his then girlfriend and he said he regretted it. not because french meat was more appealing, but that food is a gigantic part of a culture and he felt that he literally missed out on a part of french culture.
so i went on a meat eating rampage.
i am an adventurous eater. i want to try nearly everything once. as meat was done being a road block, i set some korean gastronomic goals: dog, live octopus.
i asked my co-teachers about the first goal, and it turns out one of my co-teachers--a very demure woman, who is also the youngest--loves dog. i asked her out.
'(laughs) are you sure? i hear western peoples they...think we are barbarian for dog.'
not wanting to explain the concept of entrapment and that i wasn't doing that, i told her that i am very curious about it and that i was fairly certain if i tried on my own to get dog that korean restaurateurs would most likely not give it to me.
they day came she took me to eat dog ("healthy soup") she was very nervous.
there is usually the possibility of another western being in a restaurant, but that wasn't going to be the case in this establishment. every korean who came in the restaurant did an even larger double-take when they saw me (i am accustomed to koreans looking surprised to see me, but here it was an even bigger deal).
after the meal the proprietor was very curious as to my reaction to the meal, and it turns out, so was my school's vice-principal as it quickly spread that i was trying dog.
my conclusion: it is okay. it isn't the best thing i have ever had, nor anything i need to eat again in my lifetime. it is extremely tender, and a mix of red meat and game.
(ugh, its is over-dubbed)
last night i was out with my friend rob for dinner and some beer. when we met he was fairly certain the establishment we went to had great galbi (ribs). it turns out he was incorrect. this restaurant only served one thing, and so we got what they serve. a korean man at the table next to us said, 'this may not be the restaurant for you. food is below stomach.'
rob had lived in viet nam last year teaching and both of us like to try whatever the country we are in throws at us, so we ignored what the man said, tho i had a feeling what 'below stomach' meant, and i was right.
they serve pig intestines and liver. i am not a big fan of liver. even when i ate meat it seemed like i shouldn't eat anything that serves the function of filtering bad things out of the body. but, in comparison to intestines, liver is good.
while we were out i was getting texts from my bartender that i should come in. then i got a text from a regular at my bar telling me i should come in. so, while on the subway i decided i would go.
the bar was very quiet, only about 5 people, but people i know well: 'vick' who took me out of town one weekend, young (my bartender), billy (the owner), ji who sells things on the korean home shopping network, and young, a man who is often at the bar. i was told that since it was 'rolling stone family night' they all started asking about me.
i was already drunk when i got to the bar and i showed them the two new swearing flash cards i got when i was out with rob and this korean man joined us. now, young (bartender) had already taught me 3 swear words, and one of them is extremely bad. however, these two new words are (apparently) abhorrent. ji asked to see all of my flash cards and he saw the one that says (roughly) san nag che, or live octopus.
'why do you have this?'
'i want to try it'
customer young yelled, 'i love san nag che! we go now!'
i didn't really want to eat at 145 in the morning, and i tried to protest, but then he said, 'i serve you!'
vick clarified, 'he is buying, you go'
so young and i went across the street for live octopus. it isn't as dramatic as the scene above, as it is cut up, but it is moving all over the place. it was very interesting to eat. i decided to night bite into it right away (after it crawled up my chopsticks) and let it just sit in my mouth. the suction cups affix themselves to anywhere they can. there was one piece that attached to the roof of my mouth. i was told there can be a danger of it sticking to, and therefore, blocking off your throat. so, to take care of the one that was stuck to the roof of my mouth, i took a sip of soju (korean liquor) and pushed it with my tongue.
a few minutes into the meal, the rolling stone family came and joined us. it was quite flattering that young and billy closed down the bar early just to eat live octopus with the foreigner. so there we were, a table of 6, eating a growing meal (they started adding courses) at 315 in the morning. my favorite question was, 'is sushi okay?' and i laughed and pointed out that if i will eat live seafood, uncooked seafood shouldn't be much of a problem. it was a good night.