Byu Hea Jang Guk
After a very long day of artists’ presentations on Friday, all the artists end up at a restaurant practically next door. The seating is at low tables on the floor. As usual, one leaves ones shoes at the door. I sit with three Korean artists, I do not know their names, but I plan to learn them.
I am the only non-Korean speaker at the extended table of about ten when the waitress comes to the table and says something. There is laughter and more than half the people raise their hands, she counts and she walks away. Then I am told they serve special soup here and we only have two choices. A soup made from pig, or a soup made from pig. There is a vertical hand motion associated with one and a more horizontal hand motion with the other. I choose the first pig with bone (the vertical one). The woman next to me orders the other pig soup. “It is hot,” they say. “I like hot,” I say.
The bone soups arrive at the table first, bubbling in their heavy, black ceramic bowls. I watch as my table mate fishes out a bone with her chopsticks and long-handled spoon into the smaller bowl. I follow suit. What I have placed in my shallow bowl is a cut of three pig vertebrae and the tender, flavorful meat and collagen that surrounds. Slices of giant scallion cling to it. The broth of the soup is spicy but not extremely so. There is a healthy amount of garlic and some other stuff. The broth by the way, is eaten from the serving bowl with a long spoon. If the soup is shared as it is in a family setting, everyone uses their long spoons to eat directly from the same bowl. There are the usual assortment of kimchi to accompany as well as the greens that top the soup. I quiz my table mates and make them write down the name of the dish: Byu Hea Jang Guk. Roughly translated it means “hang-over soup.” Then they pass me a shot glass of soju.
I will tell you about the second pork soup on a day when less happens. Today was exhausting.