The worst mistakes, for us, are usually relating to food. You’re stuck with something you don’t like, you leave massive quantities behind which shows you didn’t like it. Feelings are hurt, tongues are burned. General misery for all.
Food is just a really messy thing, but necessary so it’s inevitable we would make mistakes. We’ve already made some mistakes – or at least, I have. Chris has usually eaten the evidence so it never looked like I didn’t like it. Go Chris!
This particular incident wasn’t a catastrophe by any means – it just sucked. But was funny. So we’re telling it like it is, even if it gets wordy:
Every day we’ve walked by the same restaurant “Korean Ginsing Soup and (something else I don’t really know)” is the name. Just a straightforward name, a simple place that sells soup and some other things. Well, every day we walked by we drooled over a picture of this amazing chicken dish -Jjimdak. Its super saucy with carrots, chicken, noodles and other things in a giant bowl. It’s one of the few foods I recognize and knew that most people’s blogs have loved it (like the Hotteok which we tried and loved). So we decided since we drool over the picture everyday, we should go.
We got our bravery up outside the door and read and re-read the sign, trying to memorize the word so we could order it. We walk in and the husband-wife team (owners, servers, cashiers -they do it all) are excited but terrified to see us. This is usually people’s reactions when we step into a restaurant. We’ve started calling ourselves the “Day Ruiners” because we fluster most people we come in contact with – even though we are always trying our hardest to make things easy for them.
They nonverbally seat us and give us some hot towels and one menu. This has been very common so far, we get one menu – usually pointed towards Chris. If I guessed it would be because Korea still lives in the 50s sometimes and the man is always head of the household – also possibly a gentlemanly thing for the man to order for the woman? It works out because he’s usually more comfortable ordering anyway. He points it towards me so we can share it and figure out where our thing is that we want.
Our first impression – the menu is wrong. There are only about 3 dishes on it that we can read and the … whatever it was we wanted outside isn’t on it. Oh crap, what was that dish called? In a panic of seeing all sorts of crazy things on the menu, the dish name escapes us. The kindly Korean couple stares and hovers behind the table – we need to make a decision quickly.
We end up ordering in a panic. We point at it – “Dul” (two). His eyes get wide – you want two? “Nay!” we scream together. An unfortunate habit we’ve taken to lately – Nay sounds negative to us but actually means “yes” in Korean. We shake our heads no frantically. We mimic sharing it.
“Ohhh” he coos. He mimics primally eating with two hands.
“Yes.” We confirm. Sure, whatever. Just go.
He leaves. Chris is facing the restaurant and I’m facing the kitchen. Concerned looks are coming out of the kitchen at me. What have we done?
Could we leave right now? Just throw like, 10 bucks on the table and leave? We notice every single person in the now-full restaurant has ordered the same thing – we ordered something different. We’re odd man out (as usual) in a country of sameness.
“It’s not what we ordered” I whine
“It’ll be fine” Chris reassures.
“No, it’s not what we wanted, it’s something else” – the panic sets in. What the actual hell did we just order?
The nice Korean lady brings us our complimentary side dishes. We get barley tea, a small shot glass of soju (? whatever it was it was alcoholic), Kimchi, pickled spicy radish cubes, and brown. Another couple next to us sat down about the same time as we did – when brown arrived at their table, the woman gave it a face. You know it’s going to be bad if Koreans are wrinkling their noses at it.
So of course Chris tried it, and liked it. Still unsure as to what it was, did some google searching. Still don’t know. I tried to pick it up with my chopsticks – consistency of a rock. If I had to describe what it looked like – if you were to pour wax into someone’s ear so you could see what the general ear-canal is shaped like. And then you pried the wax out and put it on a plate to harden- that is what we had in front of us. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. That is truly what it looked like.
So now we have side dishes and there’s no turning back. We hang out and wait.
I’m the one facing the table – “Oh.”
“What, is it ours?”
The nice Korean man is grabbing a burner. A free standing gas burner. Whatever we ordered, we’re going to have to cook it or at least keep it warm. Well, maybe this is a good thing. That dish we originally wanted, Jjimdak needs a burner, right? Unexpected success? Maybe?
Within a few minutes they bring out a large 3+ gallon metal bowl of red. He puts it on our burner and turns it on full blast so it immediately starts boiling. Knowing from a few days ago that super hot soup makes the spice feel much worse, we inconspicuously turn it down.
There are little buoyant things in it – bones? Wait seriously did we just get a bone soup? I snarl at it a little. I don’t mean to but I do. The Korean couple look a little less kindly. I quickly grab a bowl to show an effort.
It turns out to be very lean chicken wings, hacked into various sizes. But yes, mostly bones and skin. We ladle in our bones and skin, find about three carrot pieces in it (hooray), and try to avoid the 3lbs of green onion in it. No one wants to eat that much green onion. So lunch is served then.
The broth wasn’t unmanageable. I think the looks we were getting from the kitchen were determining exactly how much spice we could handle. Since we looked like this:
The chicken was an issue. No one wanted to ladle 2 gallons of spicy red (chicken?) broth into their stomachs [spoiler alert: we end up doing this]. We wanted sustenance. I try to use my spoon to pry meat off of the bones – extreme looks of disapproval from the kindly woman. I look around – the general eating process of those around us is: stick chicken in mouth, mouth gymnastics, then pass the clean bone back to your chopsticks, deposit in a metal pot. We lack the dexterity to stick an entire chicken wing in our mouths and eat it without choking, swallowing accidentally, breaking a tooth, etc. And if we could manage this I don’t think we have the coordination to pass the bone to the chopsticks. I can shove food in via chopstick but not back out – I don’t even think I could do that with a fork.
About 2 bowls in, we’re done. It’s not what we wanted, we literally cannot eat the chicken. There is almost nothing else even in the soup – a couple carrots, a glorious potato or two. But thats it.
But, so that we don’t leave a huge bowl of possibly-four-portions-of-soup, we just mindlessly begin shoveling broth into our mouths. The further down we get, the spicier it gets. I’m wiping my nose and coughing a bit. The now-displeased Korean woman who has been watching the whole time – brings a complimentary water bottle full of cold barley tea for us. I give her a pathetic smile, snot running down my face.
We “eat” as much broth as we can hold. Then begin pulling “chicken” out of the bowl, pretending to eat it some, then putting it in the bone container. Finally the volume begins decreasing and it feels a little more appropriate to leave it behind.
Chris gets up to pay – the price: $20. So that was a 2 person portion. I’m putting my jacket on near the table when the Korean woman comes to clean our plates away – she seems very pleased that we have eaten as much as we did. Great success.
We waddle around, completely filled with liquid. I need a milk – Im’ scared what the repercussions of drinking a gallon of spice-water might be later. So I get a chocolate milk.
Pretty soon our stomachs are gurgling and we head home to use the restroom. We learn what the repercussions of drinking 3 gallons of spice-water are.
What have we learned?
In the future, if we see anything we like on the outside of a shop we plan to take a picture of it. That way when it’s time to order we just show them our camera. Done.
It was a horrible idea to drink that much spicy water.
But it made that woman happy so I’m on the fence if this is how we should handle a future incident.
We don’t like that soup. But we don’t know what it’s called. So this incident could very likely happen again someday.