I love how Deb P. describes diner food: she cocks her head to the side and says, “Oh, Bets, you know, it’s comforting.” I find the same thing in Korean food, but not in the same way. When I order a mix of raw beef, Asian vegetables, an egg yolk and spicy sauce, I am pretty sure that it will:
• Come in a bowl, with a long-handled steel spoon on the side
• Have Asian pear masquerading as a vegetable
• Be delicious
I’m also certain that there will be a number of small bowls filled with pickles, small fried fish, kimchee, and other wonders, and that some of the wonders will be new and different. Some of them will be foul, slimy and way too fishy, some will be crisp and spicy and refreshing, some will be thoughtful (like the tiny ice cubes nestled into plain dill pickles,) and some will be bizarre (a perfectly round scoop of cold, smooth, pointedly bland potato salad, anyone?)
It’s the newness, the difference that is comforting here. I like to visit cities, countries and people that remind me that there are new things and thoughts and ideas everywhere, and very little drives that point home more reliably, or more cheaply, than a walk from my Manhattan hotel to a quick meal on 31st Street.
…and now for some schlock which is no less schlocky for having been specifically requested by mine own grandmother…
All of this reminds me of one of my first favorite things about Tobias; it was the source of our first inside joke. We were talking about bizarre foods and the fun that comes with having new and different experiences. He was describing some foods that he willingly sampled during his time spent doing business in China, and the foods kept falling into two categories: foods were either “delicious” or “special” (and sometimes “very special”, as in the case of the bile gland in the shot glass of whisky.) Brilliant use of language, no? What a terrific way to honor one’s host: “This green tea ice cream is delicious! That fish eyeball soup was so special!” And, once your giggling girlfriend catches on, what a lovely way to begin describing all of the things you encounter in your new world together.