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By Way of Korea

South Korea   |   New York

A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea

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Soondae-guk & Pig Parts Unknown (Euljiro-3ga, Seoul)

Updated: Jun 16, 2019


A stack of wide, plastic washbowls balanced atop boxes of radish on the restaurant's sidewalk marked a kimchi-making operation. Behind it, a gray-haired woman appeared to be washing and salting napa cabbage in a kimchi-squat. Walking into the restaurant and finding its tables mostly occupied by middle-aged men, I knew I was about to have a pretty great bowl of soondae-guk.


This particular eatery serves abai soondae (아바이 순대), blood sausage made in a style distinctive to the Hamgyeong Province of North Korea. The distinction lies in its ingredients - large intestine is used for the casing and sweet rice is typically used over glass noodles in the filling.

Colored baskets of different sizes baskets in which pig parts unknown were waiting to be cooked or sliced drew my eyes to the open kitchen where two women were working deftly with knives and strainers to crank out lunch orders.

Many others, like me, were dining alone. For 11,000 won (just under $10), the solo diner can enjoy the soondae jeongsik (only available for lunch), which comes with a generous amount of food.


The banchan and all the fixings for my lunch (kimchi, seokbakji*, garlic stems, green chilis, salt, salted shrimp, and ssamjang) arrived first, followed by a plate of assorted slices of pig parts, a piping hot bowl of soondae-guk, and a bowl of white rice.


* [Kkakdugi (깎두기) is probably the more familiar term for radish kimchi. Seokbakji (섞박지) is the word used specifically for radish that was mixed into and fermented with traditional baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi.]

A few spoonfuls of the hot soup relaxed my upper body, which I realized had tensed up in resistance to the cold. A little salt and all of my rice took a dive into this fragrant and rich soup garnished with scallions and perilla seeds.

To be honest, I couldn't identify all the parts of the pig that were so neatly arranged on the plate of assorted meats. The ring of meats near the edge of the plate consisted of soondae, liver (간), and head meat (머릿고기).

Seonji (blood) mixed with sweet rice produced a chewier, starchier soondae than those made with glass noodles. After eating a couple of pieces of soondae lightly dipped in salt, I added the rest, along with what I later learned were stomach and uterus slices, to my still steaming bowl of soup. All that was left on the plate was the head meat. Each fatty, tender slice grabbed with a crunchy garlic stem and a bit of salted shrimp made for my favorite bite of the meal. And as expected of any good soondae-guk restaurant, the kimchi was aged to perfection.

My hearty lunch restored warmth in my body making me immune to the cold air rushing in each time the door opened. A queue began to form by the entrance, so I didn't linger long after slurping the last of my soup directly from the bowl. While paying for my meal, I saw through the open window that the gray-haired lady was still very busy, this time cutting radish inside a tarped area.


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"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.

 

In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.

 

By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

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