Since I work at a hagwon (or private Korean academy), my hours of teaching reside primarily in the evening, so exploration of much of the local cuisine has to take place on the weekend or before work starts. Whatever day it falls on, it’s always a tasty tasty adventure! Mom claims I’m gonna need to be rolled home at the end of this year. However, despite constantly eating since landing, just about everything is so healthy that my clothing still fits me just fine! Yaaay!
So. Korean friends and co-teachers, I and S invited T, D, and yours truly to experience some more of this local awesome food one particular day prior to work, at a restaurant known as a Shabul Shabul. Or maybe it’s shabu shabu. The internet says one thing, but as I recall, the sign said another. Because I could read it. For real. Kind of. Anyway. The food was incredible, and the restaurant itself was an experience!
There are a number of restaurants in Korea that require the removal of one’s shoes at the entryway, before sitting down on cushions atop a heated floor. This restaurant was one such place. Also, another fun feature of many Korean restaurants is getting to cook the food yourself right at the table. It’s rather fun.
After we had seated ourselves and the food was ordered, the gas element was switched on and a large metal bowl filled with broth was placed on top of it. While the broth quickly heated up to a boil, we were given platters of frozen beef sliced as thin as bacon, and trays that were loaded with numerous fresh vegetables: cabbage, onion, lettuce, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and some kind of radish that had the colour of beets. We started putting meat and vegetables into the boiling broth, while smaller trays filled with different kinds of sauces for dipping were brought to us. My favourite was the spiciest one, of course. We were also given stacks of rice paper, bowls of hot water, and a small plate.
This is the part where it got really fun. We dunked a piece of rice paper into the water to soften it, then laid it flat onto the small plate. Using chopsticks, we fished out pieces of the cooked meat and vegetables and put them on the rice paper. After that, we added as much or as little of the raw vegetables as we wanted from the platter, and then carefully rolled the rice paper around the mixture (it was very similar to what I did at the Korean BBQ places, only with rice paper instead of lettuce), and dunked it into one of the sauces. Then we consumed! This process was repeated until the vegetables and meat were greatly depleted!
At that point in time, I was looking at the hot bowl of broth and leftover vegetables and thinking ‘boy, that’s a lot of good food going to waste…’ But I did not know that we were far from done eating!
First, we were given some more broth for the pot, a plate of noodles (they were hot pink and I have no idea why), and a dish filled with more bean sprouts. We flung the noodles, the sprouts, and all of the remnants from the vegetable platter into the pot and let it all simmer for a bit while bowls and a ladle were delivered to our table. We turned down the heat from the grill and started serving out the soup to one another.
IT WAS SO GOOD.
I was half-convinced that the hot pink noodles were going to taste like strawberry bubblegum, but they didn’t, which was probably just as well. I’m not sure how that would have mixed in with the beef soup we were happily slurping down. Seriously—when I get back to Canada, we’re paying Korea Town a visit to find one of these places, you and I.
And then, great sadness: there was only a little bit of broth left. Weep and lament—oh wait! They were bringing a bowl of (wait for it, because this is a food item you never see in Korea—I am being so sarcastic) rice! After being here for close to two months when we visited this place, I still think I was entirely too surprised by the rice’s arrival at the table. I mean, I’m Irish. I should understand, right? Potatoes! A meal is not a meal without potatoes! For Koreans, rice!
So here’s what happened with the Korean potatoes (rice). It was added to the leftover broth with an egg mixture, which turned it into a substance that resembled porridge. Beef rice porridge. We scooped a portion onto each of our plates, and then that bowl we were cooking our food in was TOTALLY EMPTY. I was amazed. And full. So very full.In conclusion, shabul shabul is an awesome way to eat—minus the fact that my legs went numb from sitting cross-legged for so long. Apparently I am old beyond my years. And again, I say it’s lucky all the new food I’m trying here is so healthy or I’d need to buy a second plane ticket home for my stomach.