Behind-the-scenes with Bizarre Foods #1: Scouting Locations
This is the first in a series of diary-style posts about what went on behind-the-scenes during the “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” shoot in Korea.
The bridge week between July and August was my vacation. I recorded one last episode of the SeoulPodcast before our month-long break. I then got an email from Mama Seoul saying that a researcher for “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” had been talking to her, and she contacted me for suggestions.
Bizarre foods? That’s my specialty!
I emailed the researcher, Carrie, and introduced myself. She wanted to call me directly. She and the producer, Kel, called me early Friday morning as Eun Jeong and I were boarding the bus to catch the subway to catch another bus to go on a rafting day trip. I gave them my ideas and helped them with questions. The conversation was highly productive.
For the next week, I was regularly on Skype with Kel (a bit of trivia: Kel is cousins with the Nelson brothers) and exchanging emails about different aspects. For one thing, they were planning a barbecue act. They had a Korean “fixer,” who worked in the film industry in Korea. He was looking for restaurants and other locations for the show. Yet they were not totally thrilled with the pictures they were receiving of barbecue joints. They looked too upscale and sanitized or just weren’t visually interesting.
That Sunday I just emailed Kel and said, “I’ll go scout locations.”
I first went south to my old neighborhood of Ansan. There was a gobchang place there that flambeed their cow intestines in soju.
Visually interesting, I thought.
It was a blisteringly hot day. Ansan had totally changed, and not for the better. All the good places I knew were out of business. All the bad places I knew still thrived. It didn’t look like the gobchang place was still in business, even though many more gobchang restaurants popped up in that location.
So, Ansan was a bust.
I took the subway back north into Seoul, specifically the Mapo neighborhood just north of the river. I had heard many times that Mapo was the place to go for meat. I also knew my buddy Michael Hurt lived in the area, so I called him. He helped me find a few spots while on the phone, and we agreed to meet for dinner.
The area he directed me to was a little off the beaten path. These were the restaurants that the locals went to. A little grungier. No pretention. Just honest food. This was on the south side of the subway station that bisected Mapo, near Gongdeok Station.
I went to the north side of the station, where giant office and apartment towers loomed. I found the official “Mapo Restaurant Street,” which was a lot more gentrified. Nonetheless, it smelled great. I snapped a lot of pictures there.
One place was obviously touristy (hint: English and Japanese signs), but it offered YukHui, Korea’s steak tartare. I went inside and double-checked. The staff was very brusque and asked why I wanted to know, speaking to me in banmal. I told them it was for an American TV show, and suddenly they were all nice and helpful.
Even though gentrified, Mapo’s restaurant street was a good find. Too bad I don’t live in that area. They didn’t have just grilling joints, they had a good many restaurants. I took note of this sad looking fish place that served Bok-eo 복어 (blowfish) and took a few pics.
Mike and I met, and he wanted to show me one of his favorite Samgyeopsal 삼겹살 joints. The thing was, the building was being renovated. Some asking around found that the place had moved to a larger location. When we found it, Mike noted in relief that it still had its classic character.
This was pretty much like all other neighborhood blue-collar grill houses but for one innovation.
They poured egg into the well of the pan that’s normally used to collect rendered fat. Ahh… so that’s why Mike asked me to get a pack of cheese beforehand.
We laid down strips of cheese and kimchi on the setting eggs. It pretty much was a variation on the classic bacon and eggs.
The pork was also really good. No frills. Sweet and juicy. Our friend Jennifer Flinn of Fatman Seoul joined us. While she was trying to catch up with us in her pork intake, the family next to us asked Mike if he could use their camera to take a picture of them. Now, Mike is a professional fashion photographer, so he just couldn’t resist whipping out his camera and doing some cool shots, along with a business card.
That night I sent everything to Bizarre Foods HQ in Minnesota.