Friday, October 21, 2011

The Beak of Culinary Perfection

Written by Karen
Kwang Jang Market is one of the largest markets in Seoul; known specifically for its wide and colorful array of fabrics, and for its street food scene.  We were interested in seeing - and tasting - the offerings readily available through the street food scene.  The market looks deceptively small from across the street as you approach it.  But once you stop dodging the cars and scooters and cross the street and enter into one of the crowded corridors, you can see that this place is actually large.  Very large.  A spiderweb of different aisles, colors, smells and textures all shout out for your attention.  

We navigate our way through the rows and stacks of cloth, seeing and smelling what we had come for up ahead. Row after row of small vendors, each with their own specialty: kimchi; fresh (still alive) sea food; pig heads; pig innards and bits; kabobs; fruits; vegetables; chicken innards and bits; juices; mushrooms...the list went on and on.  Some known, others unknown.  A veritable cornucopia of possibilities.  
Although each vendor had a very small space in which to sell their wares, they all had pride of ownership.  Everything was very clean and everyone seemed to know everyone.  It was like a small community.  And, I noticed rather quickly, most of the vendors were women.  
Beginning to make kimchi
We started off slow.  We stopped by a vendor who was making some kimchi. She gestured to us if we would perhaps like a sample?  Yes, of course.  Wow.  The pleasure on our faces made the woman smile.  She pointed to the newspaper articles behind her that proved what we could already taste: she was a local master at making kimchi.  She gave us a few other samples of different variations of kimchi to try.  All had a different nuance and all very good.  
Street Chef
Feeling emboldened and having warmed up our stomachs, we ventured down the aisles that featured street food.  It was 11:30 and we were ready for some lunch.  What do we try?  
We finally decided on some bibimbap and thus slid onto a wooden bench with the other locals having their lunch.  Both the food and the environment was great.  The vendor proudly showed off her credentials that again proved what we already knew.  This woman knew her street food cooking stuff.  
Another street chef with her happy customers
Being in this type of place eating homemade food makes you realize once again that you don’t have to have formal training in order to be a very good cook. You just have to cook from the heart.  The pride and the love that the cook has doing what they enjoy and are good at comes through within the flavor of the food.  
Rain or shine - food and merchandise available
Lots of choices
Feeling full and very satisfied, we meandered through the aisles for a little while longer.  As we started to leave the market, I suddenly saw it and gasped in recognition. A small mountain of assorted cooked chicken parts tossed in a reddish, spicy looking sauce.  After seeing Anthony Bourdain’s episode on visiting South Korea, I knew this was the chicken feet and chicken “house of poo” delicacy.  The woman vendor - seeing my recognition - thought (erroneously) that I wanted a heaping dish, and then offered me a large sample that incorporated both a previouly clawed foot and a generous sphincter.   
I took it and popped the entire offering into my mouth.  Adam tried to stay inconspicuously close by, but not close enough to be offered his very own sample.  I started to chew and a host of new tastes and textures flooded my mouth.  The chicken foot tasted very “chickeny” and the texture was gelatinous.  The sphincter was rubbery, but with not much evident inherent flavor.  The sauce provided some good and strong flavoring for both items.  I swallowed both and then thanked the woman.  It was ok.  And, I actually ate it with a smile on my face.  
I had always wondered if I could keep a neutral approach and not make any judgements when faced with food that I would usually wrinkle up my nose and go “ewww” over.  A woman was hunched over a bench as she picked apart a boiled pig.  People were eating roasted skewered innards with enthusiastic gusto.  Freshly-killed eel.  Easily available was a sawed-in-half pig head with its tongue sticking out.  A taste of chicken feet and chicken sphincter? Yes, I can.  At least today I was able to.  It’s funny how being in a different environment forces you to keep an objective - and open - point of view.  
But today wasn’t just about eating a chicken foot and the maligned “house of poo”, it was about trying new things; having new and different experiences; and, being way out of your comfort zone.  The people that we met today were kind, generous and caring.  It’s not always going to be this easy, or this simple to try food graciously.  I’m not sure that I will always be able to swallow, smile and then say thanks.  But, today it was easy.  In my book, the look of pride that is on someone’s face when they offer you something that they have made for you to enjoy overrides any “ewww” out there.    

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step."        Chinese proverb


moneyIQGuy said...

Wow! You have a lot of courage to try new food like that, parts of a chicken that are, um, on the exotic side of the culinary spectrum. And you were able to eat it with a smile, double-koodos to you :)
I wonder if your cooking has been inspired and what sorts of dishes might next greet a guest during, say, Thanksgiving...

ed e said...

wow how great..try different things in life so we discover different things. need to break out of the next box so it goes on..love dad. if we live in a small box even when we think we have broken tiles,,etc..life is too short.