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Friday, 20 October 2006

Eating Raw in Korea - Page 2

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One of the most intriguing things about eating in Korea is that occasionally the food can be delicious and frightening at the same time. My wife and I were very new in Korea, having relocated there only a month earlier to work at a local private school when one night, while we were relaxing in a small park, our boss found us and invited us to an important dinner at a raw fish restaurant.

Unfortunately, we were compelled to eat some parts of the shrimp which, we found out, were not so delicious – namely, the heads. They are mostly shell, so you have suck out the goo inside. There’s a blue or green mushy organ (what passes for a brain) in there; lobsters have them too, and some people and cultures believe it’s the best part, but I strongly disagree.

It’s considered polite to put the inedible parts of the food on the table, not back onto a plate. Our Korean friends ate everything that was remotely edible, but if we choose to pass on something (like shrimp heads) they didn’t give us a hard time about it. They were still really impressed that I’d tried the octopus and that my wife and I liked the Soju.



When they finally brought out the raw fish, we ate it eagerly. It was cut into very thin slices, which were neatly arranged in tapered stacks atop a bed of shredded cabbage on a wooden tray. There were many different slices from either several fish or different sections of the fish - some had gray streaks, some red, but it was all whitish and somewhat clear – raw, of course, and expertly sliced while the fish was still alive. It doesn’t get any fresher.

This dish can be eaten alone, with the hot paste, or wrapped in a leaf of lettuce. It was fantastic, though my wife asked for a few more of the other cooked things, such as deep fried slices of sweet potato. All the while, the original dishes were refilled and new ones kept coming, at the request of our companions or not. The meal wasn’t over after the raw fish, either; I’d figured it was, and I’d figured that I was too full for any more. But I was wrong.

Our smiling waitresses brought out little gas burners, which they placed before us on the tables. Shallow pots of red, extremely spicy broth were placed onto them, with some stringy green vegetables submerged within. Into the bubbling broth went the as-of-yet-unused parts of the fish: the head, tail, and spine. While we waited for it to cook, still more small dishes came out. One of them was full of tiny crabs, which were raw and pickled in a hot, strong sauce. The idea was to rip a crab in half, put it in your mouth, and suck and chew until you’ve only got shell left. I thought it was a little salty.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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