I was about to write another sonnet about food, reminiscent of my ode to steak and wine from Buenos Aires, but decided instead to send a direct complaint to the Korean community of Seattle: dear friends, WHY did you not forcibly take me by the hand and sit me down on the floor of a bulgogi restaurant sooner?
Two nights ago, Ames took us to some back alley restaurant and that wound up being one of the most delicious food extravaganzas I've experienced since Peruvian ceviche. I knew things would be good when we walked in and the kids in the play area were so curious about the only white people in the place that they would dare each other to run up and stand in front of us for a split second. We slipped off our shoes and tucked them into the rack at the entrance, sitting barefoot at the entryway until they could find space in the packed restaurant. We finally got placed in the back corner room with two long tables filled with drunk coworkers (Asian Glow: no laughing matter) who got louder and louder the more Cass and soju* they drank. By the end of the night, one bold and intoxicated gentleman waved at us on his way out and called over about how beautiful we were. Amy translated, and then all the guys at the table next to us started laughing that they thought he'd been referring to them.
Here's how it goes down at a bulgogi restaurant: first you sit on the floor and realize how old you're getting when it gets really uncomfortable after an hour. Then a girl comes out and starts a barbecue in the middle of your table and puts a ton of meat on it. Then she brings out the banchan-- bowl after miniature bowl of side dishes that are equal parts intriguing and delicious for a first-timer. Our table was covered with delights like kimchi (pickled veggies with red pepper flakes mixed in), buckwheat noodles, sesame oil and red pepper salad, vinegary soup, peppery sweet soup, whole garlic cloves and onion slices to simmer in oil and entire mushrooms and salty strips of seaweed. Then the baskets full of massive, perfect sesame leaves which are almost too pretty to eat but you have to because by then your meat is ready and the girl has cut it up so you make a little roll with anything you want in the leaf and eat it in one bite and
HOLY SHITE, what is this flavor explosion happening in my mouth?! What have I been spending my 26 years on this earth even doing, if not sitting at this short table in bare feet, making miniature ambrosia packages for dinner?
Bulgogi: the ugliest food name in existence but the most delightful way to spend 2 hours barbecuing with your nearest and dearest. Yes please!
*soju is, from my understanding, the Korean version of sake and "is gross and leaves you with the worst headache in history," according to my sister. However, they give out free samples of it at the grocery store across the street, and I respect a country that allows rice liquor to flow freely among children. Here's to you, Korea!