We were at the dream depot in Cheonan-si, southeast of Pyeongtaek-si, getting craft supplies for one of our favorite boardgames. We left the house with empty bellies thinking we would easily find something to eat but after getting lost and going in circles for an extra hour, our stomach’s were growling and the kids were getting short tempered. Mistakes were made and the kids were hangry, we had to find somewhere to eat, quick.
We walked around the small town of Seongwhan-Eup through painted alleyways and restaurant packed streets behind the Dream Depot to find an early lunch. But it was really quiet on that Saturday morning, a little after 11am, and most shops and restaurants were still closed up tight. That’s to be expected for a country that stays up late into the night socializing and eating with friends. The late-night culture is great for couples, friends and co-workers to drink, eat and laugh their stress away but for this couple, with two grumpy kids in tow, we were starting to feel the frustration. Eventually, we walked into a little eatery with doors wide open but there was no menu on the wall and no English speakers at hand. That wasn’t a problem for me, though! I’d been reviewing my Korean for two months now and I felt confident that I could order some sort of food for myself and my hungry cohorts.
Turns out, I never fail to get tongue tied when a native speakers starts talking to me at a hundred miles an hour as I stared at her blankly and tried to mumble a few words. Thankfully, like most everyone I’ve met here in Korea, she was patient, kind and decided for us what we wanted. Love it!
Here’s an exact transcript of our conversation for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to use this script for your next trip to a Korean restaurant:
Nice Lady: Words words words words.
Me: Nay? (yes in Korean)
Patient Lady: More words, faster now, words words words.
Me: Pretending to be more confident, Nay. Nay, Nay.
Decisive Lady: Words, points to the kitchen in the back, words, walks away and starts putting plates together.
Me: Dazed, confused and hopeful.
To this day, I still have no idea what she said and I am still not sure what I agreed to, but when she came back out I was introduced to one of my great loves Bossam!
Bossam, also known as Boiled Pork, can be extremely confusing for a first timer. The briney shrimp are salty enough to make your mouth pucker and the raw garlic is going to throw you for a loop. But the lady was kind enough to show us how to eat everything together with a piece of lettuce in one bite and the flavor explosion rocked us back in our chairs. The versatility of unseasoned meat and a hot pot of pork broth along with tiny plates of salt and vinegar flavorings made each mouthful a build-your-own-bite creation, a recurring theme in Korean cuisine. Even my picky eater found plenty to love.
I went to pay for the food and on a full stomach my Korean language skills came back to me and I asked her how much. I expected to pay around 20,000-30,000
w (about $20 American) but she said “mon won.” 10,000won, about $10 dollars?! I thought I had misheard her, my own recurring theme for me in Korea, but I handed her 10,000 w with a big question mark over my head and she just laughed and told me I was correct.
I know many people, when moving to South Korea, are on high-alert for less than honest merchants and stand-offish strangers but the kindness and sincerity that I find in every shop and restaurant in South Korea continues to astound me. I feel so comfortable eating out and shopping here in this wonderful country. I know people who get on a numbered bus from Pyeongtaek station and ride it to it’s end to see where it leads. Others will walk right into shops in dark alleyways, that could be pretty dangerous back in the United States, and find the most lovely Mom & Pop shops full of odd and ends here in South Korea. I hope this post encourages you to go out on your own adventure and give anything and everything a try.
What was your first big adventure in Korea? What did you do that you’ve never done back home?