Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Exotic Foods I Have Ingested Whilst In South Korea

Stuffing my face as usual

As many of you know by now, I never shy away from eating the rare or exotic, especially when if it involves the flesh and organs of sentient beings. While I had ample opportunity to eat every conceivable part of a pig, among other animals, while in the Philippines with the Peace Corps, a whole new smorgasbord of gastronomic adventures has awaited my ingestion here in South Korea.
While the level of exoticism here in Korea cannot match the grotesqueness of balut (Filipino style hard boiled duck fetus) and the like, I have faced formidable foods here all the same. Unfortunately I do not have pictures of every exotic dish I have devoured. Below are some pictures and otherwise written accounts of those foods that would typically make the Westerner's stomach churn.
As a disclaimer, I am obliged to say that Korean food, by and large, is very sophisticated and flavorful and often times does not include what Westerners would consider exotic. Also, keep in mind that Koreans have been perfecting their craft in the kitchen for thousands of years and have their traditional dishes down to a science. In fact, as Korea develops economically, so has the Korean palet for the inclusion of Western flavors and ingredients. Knowing me as well as most of you do, I have sought out these delicacies and as I have learned, they taste better with chop sticks.

First on the list is eel. During the Yecheon county festival, my coteacher took me out for grilled eel. While this may not seem that exotic, the food presented was slippery, spicy, chewy tubes of what would essentially be sea snakes. It was delicious, but the texture was a little difficult to get over at first. Funny how these things become easier to eat as the quantity of beer with which you ingest them increases.

There have also been some old standbys that I have not eaten since living int he Philippines (like aunt Jan and Uncle Russ would keep anything like this in their house!) such as BBQ'd pig intestines and chicken gizzards. Pig intestines can taste horrific if not cleaned properly, as one can imagine, but the expertise of one local restauranteur has proved to me that clean swine guts can taste marvelous over an open flame. Chicken gizzards are also great anju, or beer food, as it is served salty and provides a very satisfying crunch.

Speaking of crunch, I was privy to a deep fried grasshopper, courtesy of a friend who brought this to me from her village's grasshopper festival. It was crunchy with no innards (not necessarily a bad thing) and a little spicy. This would be great theatre food. Nothing like sitting down to a good movie with a big bowl of buttered, fried grasshoppers between you and a date!

Crawling along, and staying in the realm of the insects, I was able to sample bundaegi, or sauteed silk worm in a spicy broth. These definitely had innards, almost creamy in nature, and not necessarily my cup of tea.

One of the most exotic things I have ever tried anywhere was live squid. Basically, they take a live squid, cut off the tentacles and serve it in front of you on a plate. The tentacles weren't slithering on the plate as they are want to do, but the suction with which they grappled onto my cheeks and tongue was almost painful since I hadn't chewed fast enough. I didn't know they were "live" and found out the hard way. What a surprise!

Next, I suppose, is sundae, or pig intestines stuffed with rice noodles and cooked in pig's blood (for color). Here my friend Dan and I eat the the sundae, accompanied by slices of pig's tongue to round off the exotic factor. I was assured by Dan, who said he ate the stuff as a child, that it was good. I put my full trust in him and wound up enjoying the meal very much.

And finally, for the cous de gras, whale. I tried whale. I know this could potentially upset some people, but the whale was already dead, cut up and on display. I don't condone fishing for whales but I do condone eating foods that people from different cultures have been eating for thousands of years. I had no part in the whale's death. So now that my hands are clean (so to speak), I shall continue the saga. So Mr. Do and I were at the Yecheon festival (mentioned above) and they had whale on display. It is eaten cold and dipped in a seasoned soy sauce. Honest to God, it tasted like gelatinous Hawaiian punch. I think that's enough said.

And, inevitably, one of my favorite songs growing up. Sing along if you know the words:
Great big globs of greasy, grimy gopher guts
Hairy little piggies feat, mutilated monkey meat
And all to top it off with marmaladed vulture vomit