Chance Encounters

Everyday, when I walk to work, I walk past a restaurant that is encased in a plastic and canvas shell. Inside the shell is a number of tables spilling out from the restaurant’s storefront. Like an enclosed patio, except there is no actual patio structure. This place has fascinated me the entire time I’ve lived here because it has photos of soups on the outside of the patio. One soup in particular has huge chunks of coagulated blood in it, which is something not often seen in the US.

I, of course, had to try it.

Despite my eagerness to try new foods, in the back of my mind, I dreaded this soup. I had a hard time imagining the soup tasting good, and I would feel awful to waste it if I disliked it. But I can’t know until I tried it. So last night was the night. I went in and sat down. A woman came up and greeted me, and I awkwardly asked her what she recommended in my terrible Korean. Her answer was far outside my ability to comprehend. When I was in Japan, asking “what do you recommend?” at a restaurant was a clever way of ordering food and appearing like you actually had an idea of what you were doing. But my Korean understanding is much worse and my pronunciation isn’t very good so this tactic completely failed.

She placed a menu in front of me that had no pictures, and then walked away. I stared at the hangul on the menu attempting to blindly guess what I was going to eat. This wasn’t going as planned. Then I heard a voice to my right.

“Hey, you read Korean?” an older Korean man asked.

“Not well,” I replied.

“Ah, just you eating? No friends coming?”

“Just me tonight”

“Ah, how about you sit with us. We will help you order,” He gestured to the empty seat next to him. He was sitting with two other men who were around his age. I took him up on his offer and joined them. They simply ordered everything and it was brought to the table. They told me that they usually started drinking beer with a shot of soju in it. “A soju bomb” they said. So they poured me a glass. The food that came out was cow liver and one of the stomachs, raw. Two bowls of the blood soup. Kimchi. A large metal platter in the center of the table had small intestine, large intestine, and a couple different cow stomachs.

Image

Food in question

The blood soup was actually fine. It mostly tasted like cabbage. The blood parts were fairly flavorless and a little chewy. Not something I would rush out to eat, but not something I would turn down if I was offered. As for the cow parts, that’s some of my new favorite food. The black, honeycomb looking parts are my least favorite, but they’re still delicious. There was a pale stomach in there that cooked up very nicely and was one of the most delicious parts. The small intestine has an unusual texture, but it was juicy and fatty and melted in my mouth. It really justified my philosophy of trying anything and everything I can. I would say this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, but if I had decided I didn’t want to eat cow stomach because it is “gross” or something like that, I would have missed out on one of my new favorite meals.

The three guys that invited me to the table taught me how to pour and receive drinks in Korean culture, which involved using two hands to pour and to hold a glass being poured into. They told me that this was because in ancient times, they would all have long sleeves, which would drag through the food when you pour, so you needed to use a second hand to hold the sleeve back. The also explained that it was improper to top off a glass, which has something to do with funeral rituals, and could signify death. We talked about culture and learning language and the Korean hierarchy of age. They were overjoyed that I liked kimchi and that I was trying everything on the table. One of the guys had worked with a British company and he said several of the western people he worked with would see the blood soup or cow stomach and say “What is this? I cannot eat this!” They also told me I needed a Korean girlfriend because they “make better wives than any other girls”. They told me that they came every Saturday night to drink soju (the best way to relive stress) and eat this food and that I should join them any time I was in Incheon and wasn’t doing something more exciting because they’d love to talk to me again. It was really a great night.

When I was walking home, I thought about how great of an experience that was and how it was just a random chance encounter. If I had gone to the restaurant at an earlier time, or a different day, I would have missed out on this fantastic experience. I would have eaten something different simply because of the language barrier. I could have even ended up getting frustrated over the language and walking out, apologizing the entire time, missing out on everything. The smallest most insignificant choices we make in life can change our lives in such interesting and dramatic ways.

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~ by James on March 11, 2012.

4 Responses to “Chance Encounters”

  1. I would like to think that I would try anything if in another culture just to experience it, but after reading this, I am pretty sure I would need to be on The Amazing Race to entice me to eat some of these foods. Noelle was making lots of “eww” and “ick” sounds when she read it. We love your posts!

    • That’s the thing isn’t it though? It sounds disgusting, but it’s perfectly normal to eat here for a reason. It’s delicious! These guys eat it every weekend.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts!

  2. I have always told you that. I am proud of your adventurous spirit. We are making an event out of reading your great posts.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. I had emailed you shortly after arrival but hadn’t heard back from you. I hope you’re doing well!

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