Bul Go Gi A Go-Go: Fire, Meat, Memory
I first had Korean food in college at a restaurant in Amherst called "Rabbit." The meal didn't make much of an impact, but that's probably because I had the palette of a college student. Little did my taste buds know that they would soon encounter California rolls and be changed forever. The only thing I remember from Rabbit Restaurant was the Korean ladies pointing to my then boyfriend saying in Korean: "He can't eat that. Too spicy for him." Discrimination, he cried and spooned down every last bite of kimchi stew.
The next time I had Korean was after I moved to NYC. I was in my early twenties, highly confused, underemployed and freezing cold. Two friends and I were walking around the city and when suddenly one had a brilliant idea--Korean BBQ. Ah the fogged up windows of the two storey restaurants on 32nd Street, the glowing hot coals brought by the intrepid man from Puebla to the grill table, the waitresses who would get all discombobulated if you tried to DYI (not easy to discourage with a grill, hunks of beef and American males) and the food. Perfectly marinated beef grilled and wrapped in lettuce--it was everything: sweet, salty, smoky, sour, umami, hot, cool, moist and tangy. We ate in silence, fingers and mouths busy with plucking, rolling, wrapping and stuffing.
Korean food grew into something of an obsession for me--I haunted the grocery store Hanareum and stood in front of the fish counter mute until a kind bilingual teenager from Flushing helped me. I know the Korean version of Bisquick used in those tasty pancakes--buchim garu. I feared there were only two cities I could possibly live: New York and Seoul. And when I moved to Bangkok, I was pleased to know my eternal craving could be satisfied very quickly at the top of soi 12.
N and I went recently to a newly opened place called Arirang and the fire meat was just as transcendental as the BBQ I had all those years ago. A few notes: Arirang does not use frozen meat which here I believe made all the difference--the meat was melting, luscious and we couldn't bear to leave a single shred. Also they give you a cloth bib with a Velcro tab--very silly and very useful for all the stray flying sauces. Seeing your better half in a bib imbues the meal with immediate feelings of deep hilarity. Not to mention the comedic value in using metal chopsticks. Arirang also boasts a contraption that comes down very close to the grill and sucks all the smoke away. Very effective and you don't smell like a campfire afterwards.
Also there was a strange pink soup which I am at a loss to describe. Maybe a suitable first course at a luncheon hosted by Victoria Beckham? It came at the beginning of our meal and tasted faintly of citrus--kind of like a light vegetal broth of air freshner...