Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Korea, Day 五

The Phillipians who witnessed the contents of my frequent, late-night delivery orders from Yama know that I very much enjoy teriyaki eel. Unfortunately, I had a simultaneously glorious and heartbreaking epiphany today: not all eel is created equal. (Actually I'm realizing that hardly anything is, but that's another conversation.)

After another trip to the Hyundai Department Store at Mok-dong, my grandma, mother, and I went upstairs to visit an aunt at the Hyperion. (Yes, it is fairly common in Seoul to have 15-story malls with five levels of underground parking and 30 more stories of condos above.) After watching a slideshow of my cousin's wedding photos from last month, the four of us headed to a nearby eel house my aunt recommended.

There, we ordered eight full-sized eels, which a friendly waitress expertly grilled at our table. Below are a few conclusions from this experience:
  • Thankfully, there are restaurants in the world that order live eel they keep in clean tanks.
  • Not all eel is served with overpoweringly sweet teriyaki sauce—half of ours today were in a light herb marinade and the rest were sprinkled with sea salt.
  • Rice and takuan are excellent companions of eel. So are black sesame porridge, fresh peppers, doenjang stew, chilled seaweed soup, kimchi, grilled mushrooms, and iced plum tea.
The only phrase that comes to mind at the moment to describe this situation is the Korean expression "입 버리다". Literally, it means "to throw away the mouth," but the phrase is often used to indicate that something was tasty enough to permanently raise your standards for that dish/cuisine/restaurant, (suggesting that your previous "mouth" for that food was discarded).