It felt like this was a bit of a crazy week. I think it was the buzz and a bit of the stress of having the writer “M” in town. Well, it wasn’t really stress. It’s just that my knowledge of Korean food is pretty good, but my knowledge of Seoul sucks. Really, whenever I go into Seoul to eat, it’s for foreign food. The foreign food in Seoul is better than it is in Anyang, except for the Brazilian restaurant. And most every time I’ve had Korean food in Seoul, it has never stacked up to what I get in Anyang on a typical day.
So I was stressing on how to help him find places that were good. Luckily, Daniel and some other folks were able to help him with that.
I got sick Wednesday night with a fever. We had a blast of yellow dust enter the country earlier, and it embedded in my lungs. I’m still fighting some bronchitis (the Seoul Cough). Eun Jeong took good care of me when I came down with the fever. I text messaged her from work, and she had the day off. So she made me some chicken soup. She then made me a bath. I went straight to bed, where she gave me some Chinese medicine and stroked my back until I fell asleep. The fever broke in the middle of the night.
On Thursday, M invited some of us to an upscale Korean restaurant to see what upscale Korean was all about. I’ll detail more about it later, like when the article is published. Let’s just say that it cemented Apgujeong’s pretentious reputation, along with the cafe next door.
Finally the weekend came. Eun Jeong had to work all weekend, so I was free to spend some quality time in Seoul with M. We decided to meet in a tea house in Insa-dong Saturday afternoon. When I met him, he looked pale and miserable. Poor guy had been eating too many meals, and it was catching up on him. We spent some time in the tea house. Amazing tea and snacks, by the way. I could see myself visiting those places regularly. He interviewed me on video. I then suggested that he cancel the big dinner he planned that night and take it easy, which he did.
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing some Christmas shopping in Insa-dong. We’re in election season, so candidate trucks blared all over the place. It’s comical how cheesy and stiff campaign cheerleaders in Korea are. They stiffly dance to goofy campaign songs, holding up their fingers to indicate which candidate to vote for (the numbers that represent them on the ballots).
I did sample what I think is a slight upgrade in street food. Usually you can find dalk gocchi, BBQ’ed chicken on a stick. It’s pre-grilled and sits in sauce all day. That’s normal. The new innovation (someone correct me if I’m totally wrong on this) seems to be the use of fresh chicken that hasn’t been marinated in anything put on skewers with *gasp* vegetables. The chicken is grilled fresh, and sauce is only brushed on after someone orders it. The result is a brighter, fresher taste that reminds me more of the backyard barbecues of my childhood (without my dad cursing because he again burned the chicken).
On Sunday, I decided to meet my friend Kurt Graham. Brant couldn’t make it that day as he had fatherly duties. Kurt’s returning to California from Korea this week, so this was our last time to meet up. We met in Itaewon, where he was accompanied by two military guys from Thailand and Malaysia and a general from Jordan.
The Malaysian and the Jordanian were in a hurry. They were late for prayer. We tagged along behind as they headed up to the mosque. I had never been down that street. It’s pretty cool.
When they returned, we headed up the back hill of Itaewon to the Middle Eastern restaurant Petra. This was the best Middle Eastern food I’ve had in Seoul thus far. And the prices were decent too. I’ll go into more detail on the meal itself sometime in the Food Journal.
The big thing for me was that I got to try a hooka for the first time–what the Jordanian general said was called a “Hubbly Bubbly” back home.
He really liked this restaurant, and it was obvious he was a regular. He actually started acting like it was his restaurant, from greeting guests as they entered to actually taking their orders. It was a chance for him to practice his Korean.
After lunch, the Malaysian guy wanted to go to the seafood market at World Cup Stadium. That was another first for me. I still had yet to go there. Honestly, I know there’s a nice park there. Other than that, I didn’t see what the big attraction was about the area.
The fish market itself was like any fish market I’ve been to in Korea. Of course, Noryangjin is bigger. I don’t know why we didn’t go there. It was closer to Itaewon than this place. I guess he just had a hankerin’ for this place. It was around then that Kurt and I bid farewell to that group.
We took the green line all the way to Gangnam, where we holed up at a coffee house for a couple of hours until the gang arrived for our final food excursion with M–this time at a galbi restaurant that had a good reputation.
(Trying to imitate Chez Pim)
(Kurt’s “thinking writer” pose)
Kurt and M hit it off immediately when they found out who each other were. Kurt was a prisoner in Vietnam while working on a journalism project in the 1980s. M almost did a story on that. The story was given to someone else but not before M had done a good bit of research on it. So they both knew intimate details about Kurt’s imprisonment and the stories that brought him there–something to do with Captain Kidd and treasure hunting.
I gotta buy Kurt’s book sometime.
Dinner was fine. Again, didn’t blow me out of the water. The galbi I’ve had in Ansan and Anyang was more memorable. And they didn’t have the marinated crabs that both M and I were looking forward to. Yet the friends were what made it.
I’ve made a bunch of new friends because of M’s visit, and I hope we stay in touch. Sounding sappy, huh?
The last thing M wanted to do was find the french-fry-coated hot dogs. I knew I had seen them mostly in Yongsan when I was hunting down computer components all those times. So we went down there by taxi. Strolled quickly through the red light district.
(Window Girl: “Camera, no! No! No! No! No! No!”)
I shoulda guessed, well I did, really, but I was hoping against my guess. All the street stands that sold those hot dogs were closed for the night. M headed off to Itaewon to find them, which we also knew some were. Kurt went back home. I stayed behind to catch a bus home myself, saying goodbye to both of these guys before they left Korea.
I’m actually feeling kinda sad. M was very much the type of person I love hanging out with. He loves food. He’s intelligent. And he’s not an asshole. I have a hard time finding anyone with all three of those traits in Korea.