Just got back from a nice dinner with my friend Young-chol. We met during the Noryangjin segment of Bizarre Foods, and it’s his brother-in-law’s farm where we had that DMZ barbecue. We’d been working on finding a good night to get together for a while. Originally it was for hong-eo, the infamous fermented skate. But I think that was mostly for Evil Jennifer’s sake. Evil Jennifer has an obsession with the hong-eo. But since it looked like she wouldn’t be able to join us, Young-chol said, “I’m not too wild about fermented skate.”
“I’m not either. I have develped a taste for it, but it’s not my favorite.”
“How about jogae gui?”
“Uh… of couse, yeah.”
Jogae gui, grilled shellfish, I have said is my favorite food in the world. The perfection of nature meets the raw perfection of the Korean charcoal grill. Young-chol regularly goes to this one place with his friend, another member of the Star Chef family. Since the owners knew him, they gave us some extra cherrystone and razorneck clams as “service.” Mostly we ate scallops. Scallops so fresh they were pulsating. This was accompanied by one of my favorite summer sides, a chilled cucumber and seaweed soup that tastes like the lemonade of the ocean–extremely bright and fresh. The gyeran jjim (steamed egg) had to have had some type of shellfish stock in there. Quail eggs (oh yeah). And a kimchi jjigae in a tin pot that sat over the coals boiling into a French-style reduction over the charcoals. We ordered a fried rice, and the kimchi jjigae had reduced to such a thickness that I used it as a sauce for my rice. You wanna talk about concentrated flavor in each bite…
After making obscene facial gestures of ecstasy with each scallop, we fininshed our dinner for one of the best Japanese izakaya I’ve ever been to. Even though the owner admits he’s never been to Japan, I could feel like I had walked into a different country there. Even the way they said, “Thank you,” in Korean had the clipped Japanese accent. Never been to Japan, but came from Busan, so I guess that credits for something. We ordered some crisp dry Asahi, and Yeong-chol introduced me to a dish that he said is normally mixed together by Japanese businessmen. He prefers to take each element and pile it respectfully on his spoon, which includes fresh tuna, dried ssaweed, wasabi, soy sauce and pureed ma ?, a type of slimey mountain yam that Eun Jeong used to make me drink in a smoothie. In this application it actually tasted good. Intensely Japanese, I described it in my first taste. The side dish of sliced eggplants really caught my attention. They were marinated and chilled in a sauce that tasted like soba sauce–soy sauce with mirin–and topped with bonito flakes. That’s how vegetables should taste.
I was responsible this time. We both watched our clocks. I had to make it back before the buses stopped running. He couldn’t stay out too late because he was planning to play with his kids the next day. So we wrapped up at a quarter to twelve. He called a designated driver to drive him and his car back home. Gotta love that system.
I took a taxi to Yangae Station and caught a bus there. The taxi driver asked me questions in Korean–the usual “where are you from” questions. This time I shot back at him, asking what he ate for dinner.
“Oh, I had Sundaeguk.”
“Where can you get good Sundaeguk?”
I gather that, in Korean, he said, “It’s fuckin’ Sundaeguk. You can get it anywhere in Gangnam!”
He bitched a bit about American soldiers in Itaewon, but he was a jolly chap. We hit Yangjae in good time. Smooth rides all the way back.