Some good stuff here about my trip to China during the Lunar New Year, now posted on tripwolf. Check em out!
Keeping in the spirit of wanting to try new things, I’ve been eating some weird stuff lately. On our way down from Mudeung Mountain yesterday, we stopped for a snack at what appeared to be a collapsing tool shed located just off the trail head at Jeungshim-sa. On the menu? Chicken feet with Asian scallions, grilled over an open flame and mixed with long blubbery strips of God only knows what. This was not the first time for me eating some normally discarded chicken parts. Two weeks prior, Erica and I went out drinking with a group of Koreans. Looking rather piqued, one of them leaned over the recently emptied fifth of tequila and said, “We will go to a special place now”. Known to the Koreans as 포장마차 (pojangmacha), it literally translates to ‘covered wagon’. But what is this ‘special place’ really? ~A moveable bar on a covered cart in which liquor and beer is served with side dishes like octopus shit pile, chicken feet, and chicken ass. Indeed, it turned out to be a line of open air kitchens, haphazardly arranged under orange tarps and wire frames just across from the Cheonggyecheon Stream in downtown Gwangju. What exactly makes them ‘special’ is open for interpretation.
We ordered 3 bottles of Soju, bbq pork, fried chicken feet, and chicken “dong cheem” (literally translated as poop house). That’s right, the ass — carved up into bit sized chunks, fried, and served up as one extravagant shit pile. It was not very good. Actually, it fucking sucked. A mouth full of sandy rubber bands smothered in Tabasco sauce comes to mind. As for the chicken feet, they remove the bones before cooking, so the crunch comes from what I would assume to be the claws or scales. Not bad, but not good either.
I appreciate the Koreans not wanting to waste any part of the chicken. According to my Western expectations of how chicken should taste however, it’s going to take a lot more than hot sauce, sesame, and scallions to make chicken feet and “poop house” taste any better than they sound.
Gwangju World Cup stadium this year was the venue for the Kimchi Cultural Festival; a seven day celebration (without mud or mind altering drugs) of all things inspired by vegetables rotting in a ceramic jug. For anyone that does not live in Korea or shop the isles of obscurity at your local grocer, kimchi most commonly manifests itself as pickled Napa cabbage doused with chili pepper paste. It can be spicy, bitter, sweet, and served hot or cold. The taste is, generally, okay. Most Koreans eat kimchi everyday, and will tell you that it helps prevent everything from cancer to chronic masturbation. One of the exhibits at the kimchi festival went so far as to claim it was the “number 1 healthiest food in the world,” according to a U.S. Health Magazine. I can’t remember the publication’s name, however. It may not have even been named come to think of it.
Surprisingly, we only saw a handful of other foreigners here. This might explain why one event staffer followed us around all day taking pictures of us eating kimchi. My face will probably appear in some tourist promotion next year, plastered with a cheesy catchphrase. “Say Kimchi!”
No idea of the name, it was located in a basement near Chosun University, and filled with college students. The walls, suffering from years of Sharpie vandalism, looked more like a 3rd floor bathroom stall than a reputable establishment. “Call xxx-xxxx-xxxx for happy time”. I’ve always said, you can’t go wrong with happy time…
Above most of the main tables was a small loft lined with cardboard, where you could sit maybe five people at most. We sat here, and it was just like 7th grade when I had my own tree house. Our friend ordered for us the seafood pancake, spicy pork and a famous Korean alcohol called 청조. The food arrived shortly. Included was an oddly out of place bowl of cold soup. Taking one sip of the balmy liquid with a small spoon, I nearly spat. “Umm, what kind of soup is this”? I asked. “That’s not soup. It’s alcohol”! our friend shouted. Hahahahahaha. Woops.
Pictured above is a typical meal at a Korean restaurant that we got for less than $20 US. In terms of some of the other Korean cuisine we have tasted this past week, what we got this time was pretty tame. We had something the other day that was four different parts of a cow — stomach, liver, intestine, and lord only knows what that last one was — served raw and without seasoning. Could it get anymore primal? Anyways, this here is from a restaurant called World Duck in Gwangju, and I’ve tried to identify all the different components with numbers to give a better understanding of it all.
1. A very common spinach lookalike that I’m guessing grows everywhere. Served pickled and spicy.
2. Pickeled and hard boiled quail egg smothered in roasted jalapeno. Surprisingly good.
3. Jerkified minnow fish. These are as salty as they are popular and go well with beer. The texture is a little sharp and takes some getting used to.
4. Grass clippings with bean dip and sesame seeds.
5. Roasted garlic cloves, eaten straight up. Bad breath is of no consequence.
6. Unknown sauce that didn’t pair well with anything.
7. Pickled onion maybe? I wasn’t a fan on this one
8. Fresh sliced garlic.
9. Bean dip. Delicious.
10. Mustard. Boring.
11. Kimchi (fermented cabbage), and there are many different kinds. Six out of eight students in my class said it was their favorite food. It tastes rotten to me, but I still eat it because its fucking everywhere.
12. Peanuts in a vegetable oil that taste like… um… peanuts in vegetable oil.
13. An unknown pickled pancake substance. I might have enjoyed it more if I knew what it was.
14. The MAIN COURSE!! Sliced duck. Most Korean restaurants have a gas or charcoal burner built right into the table, so the meal is actually cooked by you. Hence, the need for all those side dishes to keep you occupied while your meat cooks.
15. Lettuce / Sesame Leaf / Jalapeno pepers. Place the sesame and lettuce leaf on top of one another and pack it with the fresh cooked meat. Slap on some bean dip and roll it all up like a fat doob before stuffing the whole wad in your mouth. Don’t be afraid to combine different elements from the side dishes with your main course!