I had spent the whole day trekking at Geumgang Park and by that evening, I was famished and thought I could eat a whale. Tired of authentic Korean fare, I decided to head down to Haeundae Beach to look for makan places which are more Westernised and tourist-friendly.
It was drizzling lightly when I got out from the metro station. I passed a few well-decorated places doing BBQ, but decided against it as BBQ at such upmarket places is more meaningful when you have a group to poke around the fire. I even spotted an Indian restaurant, but suspected that they might try to pass anything with curry powder as “Indian”. Just as I was regretting coming all the way down to Haeundae, the rain grew heavier. Glad that I had decided not to bring my camera, I sought shelter near the entrance of a no-frills, authentically Korean restaurant which I could have easily found near my hotel at Soemyoen. The lady boss saw me and invited me into the shop. I figured that she wouldn’t like it if I just took shelter in her shop without ordering any food, so reluctantly, I pointed to a bowl of clam soup and some grilled prawns. The lady boss nodded, but there was this uneasy look on her face. She turned the menu and pointed to the items I ordered. 20,000 won for the prawns and 20,000 won for the clam soup. I decided that 40,000 won was too expensive a dinner for me. Feeling ripped off, I told her I’d just have some clam soup.
“Ichi?” she said.
“Hai.” I said.
She probably knew that I’m not Japanese, but at least some communication was better than no communication. Still feeling ripped off, I decided that I would just play with the food and sit there till the rain stopped. Interestingly, she looked relieved after I cancelled the prawns.
I soon found out why. The side dishes came. There was one that looked like insect larvae. It tasted like insect (I’ve had fried locusts in Thailand). Then there were these tiny shells. I saw the guy at the neighbouring table sucking on them. I tried sucking (modestly) without making too much noise but nothing came out.
Meanwhile, at another table, a guy and his girlfriend just received a plate full of wriggling squid tentacles and other body parts. I was expecting another bowl of kimchi or algae mixed with unseasoned tofu when lady boss brought a bowl of corn, an omelet and a few slices of pancake. This was followed by some steamed prawns and a whole fried fish! The prawns were a bit cold, but the fish was freshly fried and oozing with rich juices and oil. It was wonderful and then I was suddenly regretting not bringing my camera.
Finally, the clam soup came. It was not a bowl but a pot about 20cm in diameter. It was filled with clams. She pointed to the rice cooker. I shook my head vigorously, wondering how I was going to finish such a big pot of soup. I realised what she was thinking when I ordered two main courses: “This guy is either be a freak with 4 stomachs and mile-long intestines, or he must be one heck of a glutton.”
She placed the pot over a portable stove, lighted it and the soup was soon boiling. Apart from clams, the were just a few cut portions of leek and radish in the soup. The lady boss then brought a ladle with about a tablespoon of cut chillies in it. It looked pretty harmless, so I nodded. With a look of admiration, she threw the final ingredient into the soup. I turned off the stove and started eating. The clams were a bit overcooked, but the soup was delicious.
Then, to compensate me for not having rice, the lady boss gave me another bowl of pancakes and omelet. Of course, I would have preferred the fish, but when all the clams were left with shells and the second plate of omelet and pancakes was already ingested, I was feeling bloated like a puffer fish. I paid at the counter. 20,000 won was reasonable.
“Arigato.” she said, after collecting payment. “Eh … oiishi?”
“Oiishi.” I replied.
The spicy clam soup warmed me from inside. I didn’t feel the chill of the rainy night. The rain stopped and I stepped out into that alien world of without a signboard I can read. But I also realised that even though I don’t speak Korean and she doesn’t speak English, we managed to communicate with a mixture of gestures, smiles and rudimentary Japanese.
© Chan Joon Yee