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Chef Hu-nam Kim of Star Chef fame invited a small group of us to an annual cookout he and his friend Yeong-chol were having at Yeong-chol’s family farm north of Seoul.  We have yet to lose our minds enough to purchase a car and risk driving in Seoul, so we met Chef Kim at his restaurant early Sunday morning.  He was packing for the picnic, which included a whole rib loin primal cut, packs of German-style sausages made by a local university, and loads of scotch and other booze.  I used that as the opportunity to deliver his copy of the Bizarre Foods DVD from Tremendous Entertainment.

Eun Jeong and I helped load his car, and we were off and coasting north.  We were going to a small village called Yeoncheon 연천.  I noticed as we went that we passed a U.S. Army garrison and increasing numbers of tank obstacles.  Yeoncheon, I discovered, was snuggled right next to the DMZ.  The farm itself was two kilometers away from North Korea, right on the historic Imjin River.

We met Yeong-chol and his family and friends, who had made a great spread of fresh vegetables and fruit.

There was also a nice little dog there name Jjoo Jjoo 쭈쭈.

I took over the job of opening the packs of sausages, which were high quality, and scoring them for the grill.  Chef Kim proceeded to slice the primal into steaks.

Poor Jjoo Jjoo.

Then they started the charcoal.  They used a chimney starter for their natural wood charcoal.  They thankfully didn’t use any lighter fluid.  But that didn’t make it any less manly.  Especially when they had a high-powered butane torch.

Wasn’t any more efficient than using newspaper, but looked like a lot more fun.

The steaks got to grillin’, and we got to chillin’.

A good bit of booze started flowing.  A nice meaty wine from Chile.  Microbrews stored in unlabeled plastic bottles straight from the kegs.  A little side note, up until 2006, bottling microbrews and brewing at home was illegal in Korea.  Since it’s been lifted, the microbrews have been getting a passionate following from connoisseurs and is spreading.  According to Rob of Homebrew Korea, the Korean homebrew clubs are rapidly growing.  This can only mean good things for Korean beer.  My new Korean friend in the blue shirt, whose English name is Chris, agreed with me that Japan has been making great strides in its microbrew market, and Koreans want to catch up and surpass them.

Good news, indeed.

The microbrews were strong.  Eun Jeong, Eun-hak and I strolled into Star Chef the night before, and Chef Kim gave us a couple of bottles for our table.  The three of us got pretty buzzed off of just sharing one bottle.  And the flavors were complex.  Homebrew Rob, you gotta try this shit.

Beer from the night before. Can you believe it's Korean?

We enjoyed the most succulent steaks, hearty sausages and fresh grilled vegetables, along with smooth libations and bright salsa.  We even had some sweet and peppery dandelion kimchi.

The good times were flowing.  Then Chris, who is vice president Korea’s Scotch Malt Whisky Society, broke out the amber gold.

We started with glasses of Glenmorangie.  I did mine on the rocks to start out with.  Like I’ve said before, candy for grown ups.  I started to understand what was special about single malt, and I told that to Chris.  He gave a sly grin, reached into his bag and pulled this out.

I don’t know what “cask strength” means, but I do know what 58% alcohol means.

“Oh boy…”

Chris said it was “peaty.” I took a sniff.  To me, it smelled like hardwood smoke.  Strongly.  I took a sip.  I couldn’t feel the alcohol at all.  It was an explosion of smoky barbecue and a little ocean salty mist.  That’s the best I can describe it.  One of the guys joked, “One shot!”

Chris looked horrified.

“No, no!  Slowly.”

This wasn’t something to drink.  It was something to taste.  I spent much of the glass just letting the liquid coat my lips and tongue, not even taking real sips.  I wanted to make it last as long as I could.

The men headed up the ridge, by the Imjin River, to enjoy our scotch.

So, I think the DMZ is just over that hill, if I got right what they were saying.

By then, I think a few of us were getting thoroughly toasted.  Not intentional.  The scotch really sneaked up on me.  Back at the party, people were sucking on some chilk 칡, which is a type of mountain root that’s supposed to give you energy and other magical properties.  It makes really good naengmyeon noodles.

By itself, it’s like chewing on house insulation, like sugar cane, while tasting the most bitter of Chinese medicine, unlike sugar cane.  And Eun Jeong preferred this to the scotch?

Since we were drunk and had food around, Yeon-chol and I went into the kitchen, which is a professional kitchen attached to a small dining room for tourists, and cooked up some fresh asparagus he had found at a market.  He sauteed his in butter.  I boiled mine in salt water and dressed it in lemon.  They were both good.  Oh, oh, so nice.

I helped Eun Jeong with her golf swing, and then the part I dread about Korean get togethers started–the required bout of competition.  The small green that Eun Jeong’s on here doubled as a small soccer field.  So it turned into old guys versus young guys.

“Oh, I’m gonna get my ass kicked.”

Actually, I did score a goal and slightly injured one person while sliding towards the ball.  Then I saw people giving Eun Jeong money.

“Now we’re making it interesting.”

It was a close game, but the old guys won.  They used their winnings to pay the hosts of the party for their food.  Great system going on there.

The clouds got heavier, and a small rain drizzled.  Yeong-chol showed me his artwork and took me on a tour of the greenhouses.  That’s a cool operation.

A note to any English-speaking foreigners in that general area: Yeong-chol is looking for someone to help out part-time for student groups that tour the farm.  It’s an idyllic setting.  Did I mention they have elk?

The party started winding down.  We all had had a good time.  We finished the day off with some Korean comfort food.

A little Mae-eun Tang with catfish.  Some complained the catfish was muddy.  For an Alabama boy like me, it was a disguised taste of home.

We hitched a ride with Chris and his wife back into Seoul.  His wife didn’t drink, so she took the wheel.  I fell asleep, preposterously satiated.

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