Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seoul Food

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people. ~Orson Welles


You may have noticed I haven't written a Wednesday Weigh-in for several weeks.

Well, folks, that has been totally on purpose and with good cause.  The end of the school year brought a few challenges my way, like organizing a science fair, completing my term as support group president, and nearly blinding myself.

Something had to give, and that, my friends, was counting calories. 

The good news is I weighed today for the first time in weeks and have only gained a few pounds.  Even though I have not recorded my caloric intake daily, I have tried to stay away from sweets and munchies while watching my portion sizes. 

Well, that is until last week....

Michael and I celebrated our sixteenth anniversary!  Actually, we didn't really celebrate on the day of our anniversary.  He had to serve as the high school's graduation announcer and was gone until 10:30 that night. 

What did I do, you ask? 

I had a party of my own.

I cleaned the bathroom.

Party animals, we are.  Animals....

Roar...cough...cough...hack...wheeze.

Anyhoo, a few days after our actual anniversary, we decided to celebrate properly by going out to eat at a local Korean restaurant.  One night many months ago, we had popped in, glanced at the menu, and made a mad dash for the door before anyone could notice we were there.  In that quick glance, we determined we would have to take out a small loan to pay for the four of us to eat.  On the night of our celebration, however, the kids were with Nohnie and Papaw, so we decided to live it up and splurge.

We weren't leaving that restaurant unless we had spent at least $50, people.

Like I said... party animals.

We entered the lobby, and this time, actually waited to be seated.  A lovely Korean hostess led us to a private room with a drawn curtain...very Asian, very private, and well, very romantic.  I was liking our choice already!  The hostess exited, and the waitress entered and handed us each a menu.  We were shocked by the prices! 

I'm not sure what we had seen the night we went with the kids.  Maybe the prices were listed in Korean.  Some of the dishes did cost $30 or more, but many were very reasonable.  In fact, the two we wanted cost $12 each.

This presented a bit of a dilemma because we were not leaving that restaurant unless we had spent the budgeted $50! 

So what did we do?  Splurged for sweet tea and two appetizers.

TWO appetizers.

You have to understand.  For us, ordering one appetizer is radical.  Two is verging on absurd.

The waitress must have thought so, too.  As we ordered a SMALL potato pancake appetizer, a SMALL order of dumplings (our 2nd appetizer), a plate of spicy pork stir fry, and a plate of chicken stir fry, she gave us an are you sure about that look.  (a look that knows no cultural or language barriers)  We brushed it off, thinking she probably thought we boring Americans would not like our food selections.  Pancakes, dumplings, and stir fry didn't seem that adventurous, so we went with the $50 plan.

Well, we soon understood her look.

First, she brought us each a bowl of soup and a salad.  These were not listed on the menu as part of the meal, and we were pleasantly surprised.  It was yummy, and we both lapped it up.

Then she walked in with the SMALL potato pancake.

Obviously, in Korean SMALL means platter-sized.

Then came the SMALL order of dumplings.  I could barely see Michael over the mound of food between us.

Next the waitress entered with a large tray filled with bowls of Korean delicacies.  We had not ordered what she was setting before us but they also came with the meal although not listed on the menu.  We decided to be good sports and try a little of it all.  Evidently, this was another manifestation of Korean generosity and hospitality.  So how could we say no? 

After sampling, we knew one side dish was broccoli with hot sauce, one was some variety of greens, and another looked like cabbage.  We thought one contained sprouts and corn, another hot dogs, and another maybe had sea weed.  We were clueless about one bowl but ate some anyway.  It was crunchy and sticky but lacking in flavor, at least any recognizable flavor. 

Soon she served each of us a bowl of rice and followed with large platters of chicken and pork.  It was kind of like when you get fajitas at a Mexican restaurant- sizzling on an iron platter that is set inside a wooden tray to keep you from burning your fingers off and heaped up so high you have to dig for a week to find the center.

We were sooooo full from all the soup, salad, pancake, dumplings, rice, and assorted side dishes that we did not need our main dishes at all.  However, we were not going to offend any of our Korean friends by leaving untouched food on the table.  As we were picking at our stir fry, trying to eat as much as we could force down, the hostess walked in to talk to us about our experience. 

I think it was all she could do not to burst into hysterical laughter as she saw two wacky Americans seated at a table for six completely covered in dishes, enough for twelve.  I'm sure we looked a bit odd, too.  The food was delicious, but we were growing miserable with each bite, and it showed.  We continued to shovel the food to our mouths, chew, gulp, and then, through forced smiles, make yummy noises and give thumbs up.

She eventually regained her composure and suggested next time we order less food.  Korean meals, she explained, offer a lot of variety.  She also decided to help us out by explaining what each side dish was.  She taught Michael how to wrap his pork in Kim Chi (the cabbage dish) and top it with tofu.  Surprisingly, he thought the pork-cabbage-tofu combo was good which motivated him to eat a little more....until he started feeling a bit woozy.

He thought this was because he was so full he was borderline comatose.

We later learned the Kim Chi he had been scarfing down is no ordinary cabbage...it's fermented cabbage!  I guess he stopped eating just in time to avoid trouble.

We cheered as she revealed what was in each side dish bowl.  We were right!  There were sprouts, sea weed, broccoli, spinach, hot dogs, and (fermented) cabbage.  We thought this was incredibly fun...

...until she told us what was in the mystery dish.

Wanna know?

I know you do, but brace yourselves.  It's not pretty.

SQUID!

Yes, folks, we ate squid.

Maybe we are party animals after all....

Well, just when we thought no more food could possibly fit on the table, she brought us a platter of melon for dessert.  We took it, along with two-thirds of the pancake, several dumplings, well over half of our main courses, and a mountain of rice home.

We left the uneaten squid there.

Turns out we CAN afford to feed the whole family at the Korean restaurant.  If you ever want to join us, we can go halvsies.  It will only cost $50, and...

...I'll even let you have ALL the squid!

Happy Eating!
Dawn 

P.S.  As long as no one serves me any more surprise, mystery dishes between now and then, I plan to publish Wednesday Weigh-ins again starting June 15.  :)

2 comments:

Kellie said...

Too funny!!! And it sounds like quite the bargain. I've never tried Korean food before -- sounds wonderful! I love fried calamari, but maybe the squid doesn't taste as good when it's not coated in grease. Figures. ; )

I am blessed! said...

My husband and I usually eat out once a year for our anniversary. I always go light and he always enjoys it to the max then regrets it later. We've come to realize that our bodies just aren't able to tolerate the rich food and enormous helpings most restaurants offer. But it's still fun!

Celee