Cold buckwheat noodles, and other embarrassments

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Cold buckwheat noodles, and other embarrassments

Looking back on my first summer in Korea, which was last summer, what stand out most are the humiliations. My first mistake was arriving in July.
Thinking I’d make a good first impression, I put on a sportcoat for my first appearance at the JoongAng Daily newsroom. My people are from Arctic climes ― well, some of them are ― and we don’t cope well with humidity. By the time I’d gotten on the subway, transferred twice, clumped up and down 10 or 12 flights of stairs, gotten lost in City Hall station, found the right exit, gotten lost again, stumbled around downtown like a confused child for half an hour and darted across eight lanes of traffic, not realizing that you were supposed to cross the street belowground, I looked like I’d had a shower in my dress shirt and then put my jacket on. One of my bosses, once I’d finally found the JoongAng, smiled with polite bafflement and handed me what would be the first in a long, long series of tissues handed to me by concerned Koreans.
I learned to pack an extra shirt for work, but the shame continued. Editing a business story one night, I shortened a reference to a Kim So-and-so to “Mr. So-and-so” instead of “Mr. Kim,” a mistake that the reporter who’d written the story caught before it went into print. Yes, yes, I knew the surname came first, but it was my first week and it wasn’t second nature yet. Cut me some slack. Unfortunately, I had to admit to the same reporter on the same night that I didn’t know what a personal digital assistant was. She laughed at me, and it wasn’t an “isn’t that cute” laugh ― it was a “what kind of rubes are they making us work with now” laugh. In my defense, as I would have explained to her had I not been afraid that I’d start sweating, I basically knew what a PDA was, but I’d never seen one up close. I began to fear this reporter.
Around this time I was mostly eating Frosted Flakes. Korean food was all one indistinguishable ordeal, the only variables being whether there would be tentacles or not and whether anything in those little dishes would still have its eyes. In an alley one afternoon, across from a PC bang where I’d been writing self-pitying e-mails home, I saw a sign that said “cold buckwheat noodles” in English. Surely I could handle that.
There were four or five people in the place, wedged in close enough to read each other’s newspapers. I’m not sure now whether I ordered mul-naengmyeon or bibim-naengmyeon, but it was buckwheat noodles in a bowl. The ajumma cut it up with scissors. What are you doing? I thought. Those are scissors!
I ate. I began to sweat. I began to hiccup from the spice. Huk. Huk. It seemed to be the only sound in the restaurant. Huk. Everyone was politely looking down at their newspapers. Huk. Now my water was gone. I squeezed what I assumed was water into my cup from the bottle on the table. I drank straight vinegar. I went blind for a half-second, got up, paid and staggered out the door, making huk sounds. I told this story to my Korean bosses over lunch a few weeks later, and it got a big laugh. One of them said, “I call him Sweaty Boy!” But I was making progress. Not long after that, I conquered my fear of the noodles you can see through.


Ingredients: 350 grams of naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles), 200 grams of beef shank, 1 green onion, 4 garlic cloves, 1/2 onion, 100 grams of radish, 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder, 1/2 cucumber, 1/3 pear, salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, 2 boiled eggs. Serves 4.
1. Put the beef shank in a pot, add six cups of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, add the onion, green onion and garlic. Let it boil for an hour. Remove the beef and the vegetables.
2. Let the broth cool. Add six cups of water, the soy sauce and the salt.
3. Slice the cucumber into thin strips, sprinkle them with salt and let them sit in a bowl. Thinly slice the radish and let it sit in a bowl of water mixed with salt and sugar. After 10 minutes or so, rinse off the cucumber and take the radish out of the water.
4. Boil the naengmyeon for 1 to 2 minutes, then rinse it under cold water.
5. Put the noodles into four bowls, each topped with a small slice of the beef, cucumber, radish and half an egg. Add the broth.
6. Serve with vinegar and mustard on the side.
Provided by, Delicook

by David Moll
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