There was only one thing on the menu at Young Me in Gwangju: oritang, or duck stew, and it comes served with a side dish of xenophobia.
The other day I headed over to Gwangju for the weekend because I was told that despite having no attractions to speak of, the food is the best in Korea. So I booked myself into a business hotel with heated floors and headed down to Duck Soup Street, aka Yudong Alley.
I casually strolled into the foyer of the restaurant, and by casually I mean sweating and shifty-eyed. I never know what to do in these situations, especially when I'm outside of the major cities that are used to dealing with hayan pang (white bread) like myself and am in the sort of town where people stare at me when I'm parading down the street. Anyway, suffice to say that the restaurant I had chosen to grace with my mute, awkward presence, rejected my overtures and asked me to leave before I had even sat down.
What they didn't know is that to me, rejection is the sweet tonic that stokes my attraction into fiery determination. They would serve me lunch and they would love me. So I didn't leave.
I stood there and waited while 4 or 5 other groups--who arrived after me--were seated, and once there was no other Korean in town interested in having lunch, they finally decided to give your hero a table.
And despite the wait and the intense feelings of alienation, once I was presented with a steaming cauldron of oritang, I knew it was all worth it. The staff, who by this point were convinced that I was retarded, treated me gently. They brought me a fork, despite the fact that the rest of the patrons seemed to be using their hands and mouths far more than their chopsticks (and we all know I can pick a splinter and 30 paces with chopsticks).
Seeing my inability to feed myself, the women working would come over to my table every thirty seconds or so and push more greens into my pot which was merrily bubbling away, and which I clearly wasn't eating fast enough. Within approximately 5 minutes, they had stuffed a few baskets of greens (mustard, maybe?) into my pot and instructed me to eat it quickly, dipping the food in a special unidentified hot sauce. And by "instructed me," I mean they spoke to me loudly in Korean and in one hand waved a pair of scissors at me while the other hand was occupied with more greens.
The soup was so creamy and rich that it could have had cream in it, apparently that's because of the perilla seeds they add to thicken it up. This was the first day that I wasn't able to eat my ritual 4pm box of Pocky--that's how much of this stuff I ate. It was delicious, beyond delicious.
By the end of the meal, my paper tablecloth was destroyed. After eyeing up the tables around me, I realized that if anything, I had been too delicate, too reserved. This is a meal to throw bones around to, grease dripping off your chin. Perhaps because we appreciate those things that we have to work for all the more, oritang, was easily my favorite meal in Korea.
I'm gagging for a recipe so if anyone knows anything more about this dish, please share.