Because of Chuseok, we got the day off from work. Actually four days. Other foreign teachers long had vacations planned, so Shane and I flied solo. Though quiet, my birthday was memorable. We hiked in the morning (see Hiking Seunghaksan: Attempt One) and after some restorative Veronica Mars episodes that afternoon, ventured for dinner.
We wanted to try bulgogi, one of Korea’s most widely-known dishes. According to our Moon Handbook, until about 30 years ago, eating meat wasn’t even that common, but post-war prosperity increased carnivorousness. As we soon found out, Korean barbecue rocks so hard you’d think they’ve been doing this forever.
Searching for the cheapest option, we settled on a corner place filled with locals. Please know Shane wasn’t being a cheap-ass on my birthday. Each bulgogi restaurant is more or less like the next, with variation of side dishes, and you can pay twice as much for the same foods. We pointed to the menu for two servings of beef but successfully verbalized beer order (maekju- the only word we really know so far besides hello, thank you, and car, despite our students’ best efforts to teach us).
The waitress/cook/ dishwasher ran, yes,ran, to our table with a long-handled pail full of red hot coals, which she promptly dumped under our table top grill.Before we knew it, side dishes covered our table. The side dishes (banchan) included marinated cucumbers, super spicy rawpeppers, oil with salt in it for dipping, garlic, kimchi, red chili pepper paste (super awesome), dried anchovies, noodles, and a salad of onions, bean sprouts, red pepper paste, and sesame leaves.
When the heap of rolled up beef slices arrived, we threw some on the grill. In minutes, we were eating. It was like eating bacon-- beef bacon-- for dinner.What a difference a couple months makes for us former vegetarians.
And what’s a birthday without cocktails? Don’t worry, we got some after at Fuzzy Navel bar. Shane got a brandy sidecar, which he needed to end his brandy drought. I got a maitai, probably one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, tangy and only slightly sweet. Birthday success.