Written by Venessa Locher
I’ve lived in Korea for over two years now, so one might think I’m practiced enough to pick and choose what I want to eat at restaurants. This is usually the case; however, whenever I seem to be feeling the most confident in my Korean-life skills, Korea always has a way of laughing right in my face. Just last week, Ben and I went to a restaurant behind our apartment building. We’d been there before and really liked the samgyupsal (kind of pronounced, “sam-gip-sal.” It’s the standard Korean BBQ meat–like a very large, thick bacon), but this time we wanted to ask if they served another type of meat because the samgyupsal can be very greasy and heavy. Ben used his Korean skills and after a little confusion with the ordering process, both the waiter and Ben looked like they were in agreement as to what we ordered. Moments later, our meat came to the table and the server started preparing it on the hot table. As we watched it cook up, Ben and I side-eyed each other in mutual puzzlement.
The “meat” had no red or pink to it. What the chef was cooking was two 5″x5″ squares of shiny, off-white, spongy tissue. Though we were curious about what this meat actually was, Ben and I didn’t say a word to the chef throughout the long cooking process. The food looked edible enough, neither of us wanted to be rude since the food was already being cooked, and we felt our lack of Korean speaking ability would make it hard for us to question what we were actually being served.
Once the “meat” was crispy and golden brown, he sliced it into small, french-fry sized strips, fried it a little longer, then served it to us. We were both cautious, but I decided to be the first to try it. It was squishy, sort of flavorless, and really just felt like I was eating cooked fat. It was not what I would have wanted to eat for a whole meal, but I was game to eat my portion of the food since it was a finished, cooked meal. Ben, on the other hand, had a much harder time with the meat. In the time it took for me to eat three strips, he was struggling with just his one. He chewed, and chewed, and chewed. Through clenched teeth he said, “I can’t even get this small enough to swallow” and then he spit it out into a napkin. Now we were both really curious to find out exactly what we ordered. He referenced the menu and used a translation app on his phone to decode the item names. When he translated “막창” (mak-chang) he got wide-eyed and looked at me, “You’re not going to want me to tell you what this is.” His face went sour. I insisted; he MUST tell me what we were eating! He turned his screen to face me; it read, “PIG ANUS.”
Well that stopped all dinner action for a good 5 minutes. We sat and stared at the food as the overwhelming unsavory taste of anus engulfed us. Worriedly we sought each other for the solution. We decided that we just could not finish the meal. Ben told the waiter in broken Korean that we needed to order something else because foreigners can’t eat this food. The waiter seemed completely satisfied with our request. The decision to order different food still bothers me a bit. I was already (unenthusiastically) prepared to eat my portion of the meal, and I’m not one for wasting food. In the end we decided to order our good old standard, samgyupsal, and we went home satisfied!
Oh, and we paid for both meals too. -__- Never a dull moment as a foreigner!