Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The First Meal

Drive By Truckers--"Daddy Needs A Drink" (mp3)
Jay Farrar--"Feed Kill Chain (live)" (mp3)

Another mega-humid morning. Another air inversion, courtesy, apparently, of that giant pollution machine known as China. Another drenched arrival at the Starbucks near the hagwon. Another hope that they will turn on the air conditioning instead of opening the doors to let in the "cool" morning air.

Sitting here drinking an expensive iced tea, my thoughts begin to turn toward that first meal. You know the one--when you're back in your home town and something you haven't had in a while starts calling your name, then paging you, then emailing your stomach. So, hmm, where to eat that first meal?

Let's look at the contenders:

1. Ankar's
2. Lupi's
3. The Boathouse

Right now, I'm leaning strongly toward Ankar's. You can't get good onion rings here, or, for that matter, turkey of any kind.

Food in Korea, for us, has fallen into four categories:

a. The "Korean Dishes You Must Try"--these include a tasty variety of various barbecues, rice dishes, soups, and stews, all served with numerous sides and the ubiquitous kimchi. The taste of the dishes varies by location and each restaurant generally has a specialty it's know for, but it all tends to be pretty good. I'll be interested in trying to recreate the barbecue and the bipimbap at home, in particular, though the "jimduck" (American spelling) may be the best dish I've tasted. It also the only dish in the world I know of that contains potatoes AND noodles AND rice. The only problem is that you can't eat Korean every single meal, even if you came here thinking, like I did, that you would do exactly that.

b. Asian Attempts at Western Food--this is such a broad, hit-or-miss category that it's hard to even explain. We've had transcendent gorgonzola and honey pizza that sucked the next time we had it. We've enjoyed that Japanese burger chain Kraze Burger. Our Canadian friend Jason tracked down some very good fried chicken (which comes with sides of pickled daikon radish). But we've had our share of other bad Italian, misunderstood sandwiches, and other things that tend to make us steer away from these places. European-style cafes with coffee, pastries, and sandwiches are extremely popular and give Starbucks a run for their money. Students have told me, "I know where there's a good Italian restaurant." I think to myself, 'all things are relative.'

c. Fast Food Chains I Would Never, Ever Eat at in the U.S.--Ok, we've been to KFC, McDonald's, Coldstone Creamery, and Starbucks. I've avoided, by the grace of God, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and who knows what else either because we couldn't find it or got detoured. Although, I must say that a late-night Big Mac, while probably the unhealthiest food on the planet, brings great comfort and succor. The fries suck, though, and the drink cups leak through by morning. Tommy tried to get me to try to Bulgolgi Burger at McD's, but I stuck with old faithful. On his birthday, Tommy wanted to go to KFC for lunch, and it was as godawful as in the states, only worse because they're so niggardly with everything here. (Note to American KFC: putting a McDonald's-style hashbrown, in some twisted perversion of a Primanti Bros sandwich does not make for a great sandwich).

d. Barfood/German food--Itaewon has some $15 dollar nachos that are to die for (they serve 4 people, or the three of us), if that's what you're in the mood for. We've eaten them three different times. Being the safe-ish haven for Westerners (safe from everything except other Westerners), Itaewon probably has the best selection of this kind of food, from burgers to chicken wings to the fish and chips we'll probably eat tonight. This is comfort food, really, for Westerners, and as such it doesn't have to hit a very high bar. We have been to an Austrian place for schnitzel as well; Tommy spoke to the owner in German who assured him that it was the real deal, which it seemed to be to me. Quite good. But, like Golden Tee, perhaps not why I came to Korea.

Nevertheless, even though some of us brand ourselves as "emotional eaters" as a kind of aberrant condition, the fact is that we are all emotional eaters, and during a 30-day stay in another country, there are few emotions stronger than homesickness, love of country, and the need for the familiar. Ultimately, that is what we feed most of the time.

Drive-By-Truckers and Jay Farrar are both available at Itunes.


jbradburn said...

Bob - How is your stomach holding up? Also, how is the meat? In Cozumel and in Spain, the burgers didn't taste quite the same as they do stateside.

Last time I went to Spain, I managed to avoid red meat for the entire trip...it worked out OK because they have lots of seafood.

Are the restaurants clean? When I've been overseas, I yearn for the clean restaurant and the ability to drink tap water when thirsty in the middle of the night.)

Hank said...

Both my kind of music and discussion (good call on the live version). Is there going to be another post about booze in Korea? Also, metal chop sticks suck! When we went, we primarily ate at type A resteraunts. We went to a pretty good type B, although it was kind of Korean-American fusion. For a variety of reasons, I never really knew what I was eating. Except for our trip to Krispy Kream.

Bob said...

Meat seems to be fine; of course, you know that right now we're in a place where a restaurant (if I could read it) is likely advertising that they don't serve American beef. The protests continue. The meat on burgers seems fine; we also had one expensive steak that was quite good, but we don't eat that much red meat. Restaurants are clean; water from the tap is fine.

Can't speak to the liquor, Hank. Pretty much sticking with beer; had a couple of brief run-ins with soju. That's about it.

Bob said...

I think I've advanced to the "intermediate" grade of chopstick proficiency; T.D. has nearly mastered the alphabet.

Hank said...

All I had was Cass: "The Sound of Vitality".