Asia Report #6 - Dan Gets Wasted On Hite Pt 2
With our bellies full of seafood pajun and Hite, we trudged through the rain to one of Myeong Dong's main crazy narrow streets packed to the gills with stores, restaurants and people for our next food stop. Here you have competing cosmetics stores trying to out shout each other via megaphone, American chains, Korean chains, food stalls ranging from mammomth grills heating up sausages and squid sticks to tiny griddles manned by crouching ladies cooking what looked like little pancakes sold for the American equivalent of a quarter or fifty cents. There are brightly lit signs everywhere and not just on street level. It's completely insane. There's nothing like it in the states, I'm sure. These types of dense mainly pedestrian malls are something I've only encountered overseas. Fulton Mall may be a close comparison, but even that is way more open and wider.
We decided on a restaurant that specializes in budae jigae. This is a hotpot-esque dish with humble origins. Duuring the Korean War food was in short supply, especially meat and so Koreans who were near army bases would go around and gather what they could from soldiers who were feeling generous. This included meats like SPAM, sausages and hot dogs, beans and instant ramen. The Koreans would then dump it all in pot and stew it up with kimchi for a way too infrequent hearty meal during wartime. The military is a big reason why SPAM is loved by Koreans and Hawaiians. I grew up eating it and I especially loved, just loved using the attached key to open up the can to unearth the spiced ham. The thwomp sound the loaf made when escaping its tin shell was another joy.
Amazingly, this may have been the first time I've ever had this dish! I've had plenty of other jigaes (stews) in my lifetime, but I don't recall ever tasting one that was specially tagged as budae. Our restaurant was named for a Korean folk tale called Hong Bu and Nol Bu, two brothers on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Think Goofus and Gallant, you know from Highlights magazine, the one you read in the dentist's office as a kid. I can't remember which brother represents the "good" and which the "bad" nor can I remember which brother the restaurant was named for (I can't find the business card), but I imagine we were named for the bad, gluttonous one because I totally felt like a pig.
Each table was set up with a gas burner upon which a large wok-like vessel was placed. We went with the house jigae, which consisted of a little of this, a little of that (cut up SPAM, sausages, leeks, scallions, kimchi, chili paste, mushrooms, rice cakes and some udon noodles) in a clear broth. In addition we all ordered some add-ons. Dan and I added jjol myun, a type of very chewy rice noodles to our pot, while Moka and Joonpil added sujebi, which is another traditional handmade Korean pasta. The rice cakes were apparently North Korean style (who knew? not me, so I have to take Moka's word for it) and looked like little white opaque peanuts, while the sujebi looked like your traditional flat disc cut on the bias. " We also ordered a couple of Hites. Halfway through I knew I was drunk, but I think Dan was unsure. I also picked out my SPAM. I just wanted into eating it when there was a bounty of noodles and ricecakes.
As the stew simmered away, the heat of the dish intensified. We addedextra broth to cut down on the spiciness, and washed down each bite with swigs of Hite but it still didn't help. Moka likened Dan to a true Korean for his ability to widthstand such spicy food. I think we were all sweating by meal's end. Man, I want some right now!
P.S. One of our side dishes looked like a bowl of marinated glass noodles, but upon tasting, they had a crunch similar to bean sprouts. They sort of looked like the long body of a bean sprout too come to think of it. So far Googling has come up empty. I think it's a sea vegetable, possibly with the "angel" in it's name.