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Friday, 20 October 2006

Eating Raw in Korea - Page 3

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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.

Once the soup was served, we found that a similar method of eating was used for the fish’s head and tail. Luckily we didn’t have the highest status at the table - our boss got the head. He broke it into a bite-sized piece, put it in his mouth, and the next time I saw it, it was only bone.

I got some good pieces of what was left of the meat. It had fallen off of the bone and was so spicy that I feared it would make permanent burn marks in my mouth. There’s this blend of spice they use on many kinds of food, which is fermented red pepper, garlic, bean paste, and innumerable other combinations of ingredients. It is used in many soups and for the staple food, Kimchee, which is fermented cabbage and other veggies covered with a variation of the sauce. Kimchee is eaten with every meal and can be cooked in many ways. Some Koreans traveling will bring Kimchee along, in fear of going without it and experiencing some kind of withdrawal.

Someone must have noticed that my wife didn’t like the soup, because more shrimp was brought out. This time, a pot was placed on the table, in front of my boss, who reached into it and snatched up a shrimp. He then passed the pot to me, and I did the same, grabbing at the shrimp blindly. I grabbed one, and it thrashed against my hand and wrist until my boss nudged me, showing me how to hold the shrimp upside down by the tail, so it can’t move. He then tore off the shell and ate it, and nodded at me to do the same. I looked around – most of the Koreans at the table had an upside down shrimp in their hands and looked ready to tear into them, and my wife was looking at me like I was crazy.

Tearing the shell off the living creature was pretty gruesome, but I must admit that the wiggling raw shrimp was quite good. There was a cool sweetness too it, and it had a fantastic texture that yielded itself to the teeth with minimal biting – it was softer even than the raw fish. Still, the process of getting the thing out of the pot and out of its shell wasn’t particularly easy, so I declined seconds.

We didn’t leave until hours later, when everyone was full, or drunk, or both. My boss paid for the entire meal because he had invited everyone. No one would think of trying to offer him any money – it would be terribly rude. They drove us home and laughed at our hangovers the next morning. After reflecting on the prior evening, we agreed that though the food was at times terrifying, it was one of the most memorable and delicious meals we had ever eaten.

©Edward Campbell

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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