Maybe it’s not always about the food?
Did I ever mention that I visited Korea back in 1997 and 1998? Yup, I was young, then. I don’t remember much about it – just impressions, though. Back then, the rapidly industrializing nation was just about as forgettable as they go – a poor man’s imitation of Japan without the technological prowess, fashion sense, aesthetics or civic morality of its progressive and futuristic neighbor. In fact, it bore more resemblance to the drab of communist China of the 90s than the glitz of dystopic Tokyo. I haven’t been back since. Today, obviously, things have changed, and a visit is on my wish list, but it’s not for the reasons you might expect. While I gained my freedom to travel two years ago, I didn’t immediately rush back into Seoul. Over time, as the influence of the Korean wave became apparent – every border it transcended, it appeared to engulf and stifle the avenues of the local culture. What chance do territories with little to non-existent culture have against toned, perfect ivory-skin dames and hunks lip-syncing to tunes whose lyrics implore the adoration of its audience? Zilch. The issue isn’t so much the music, song or dance, but the cultural impact of it. The most obvious consequence is that it has redefined our notions of beauty – you’re good-looking only if you look and dress like a certain Korean celebrity. Intended or not, the Korean wave had inadvertently transformed into cultural hegemony. But are my assumptions true? I try to keep an open mind, but for now, I’ll start with its cuisine.
I find it very difficult to discuss do-it-yourself Korean barbecue restaurants because of one singular factor – how the meat turns out depends entirely on your own culinary skill. Alas, I was craving red meat, and with so little alternatives, we had to go Korean. Darren recommended Wang Dae Bak, a restaurant chain that has gained a lot of traction on the web in recent months. Loved for its polite, always helpful but unobtrusive lady boss, convivial atmosphere, and the fact that Koreans have been spotted downing soju while enjoying a fair bit of gogigui (that’s Korean barbecue to you and I), means that it gets full on most days, so a reservation might be advised. At its core, Korean barbecue is all about communal dining, and like all common use restaurants, it’s definitely more about human interaction, participation and socialization than the food. The music’s pumping, the food’s appetizing – just dig in.
While there’s a decent quality to the meats, albeit pricey across the board for the price, as well as some of the best savory pancakes I’ve had, I thought the place was generally style over substance.