One last pork cutlet before ArmaggedonThe Inner Sanctum, the Blue House, 23:30 hours:
In a darkened room, warrior President/man of the people Roh Moo-hyun hammers at a keyboard. “They want diplomatic war? I’ll give them diplomatic war!” he snaps. At his shoulder, ssireum wrestler/techno monster Choi Hong-man stands guard, clashing his K-1 gloved fists together. Soon, he will reduce his next sumo opponent to quivering jelly...
A Special Forces airbase, somewhere in South Korea, 00:00 hours:
The engine hums as, in a blacked-out C-130, a commando sergeant makes final adjustments to the parachute harness of the man who will spearhead Korea’s offensive. “Careful, please,” says TV icon/pretty-boy thespian Bae Yong-joon. “If I am tasked with seducing the housewives of Japan to our cause, I need to look my best!” Indignantly, he readjusts the impeccable knot of his violet scarf...
The Imperial Palace, Japan, 01:00 hours:
Samurai armor clanking, Japanese Prime Minster/master hairsprayist Junichiro Koizumi admires the lamp-lit cherry blossoms as he crunches across the gravel of the Zen garden to inform the Emperor of the approaching war clouds. Sadly, he remembers how a crown prince as good as admitted a few years back that his distant ancestors came from Korea. Tut tut...
Reader: We are living in historic days. Armaggedon hovers over us. Some urge households to stock up on instant noodles. I dissent. Now is the time to taje a chance on the grub of the enemy. Why? Because when this balloon goes up, who is going to be seen visiting a Japanese restaurant?
Time is short. Three companions and I plunge into a back alley in the Jung district. No time to find a fancy sushi house. We spot a couple of hanging red lanterns. A sign proudly reads “Katsuya ― since 1997.” We tumble in.
It’s small, L-shaped. There’s a samurai mask on one wall. A watercolor of sumo on another. Yes, this will do. We are not the only ones who have decided to enjoy a (last?) Japanese meal. The place is crowded. Unpatriotic? Maybe. But who cares? Waitress! Menus!
Not much choice. Page 1: various donkasu (breaded cutlets). Page 2 and 3: fish and skewers. “Sorry, just page 1 for lunch,” says chef. “The rest is for evenings only.” War rationing, clearly, is in effect. I choose the seangsonkasu (fish cutlet: 7,000 won, about $6.85); companions, the cheesekasu (8,000 won) and the hiraekasu (thick pork cutlet; 7,000 won).
Food arrives swiftly. Crockery is mismatched. Here, black and red Japanese lacquer bowls. There, white, Western-style plates. Doesn’t matter. Let’s eat. Bread crumbs are golden, crispy. No grease. The meat ― both fish and pork ― is clean, textured, fat-free. So far, it’s good. Very good. This is better than your average donk.
There is rice and kimchi, too. The kimchi is crisp, moderately spiced, fresh-tasting. To think: This is now the most popular condiment across the East Sea. Perhaps ― just perhaps? ― they are not unlike us. Perhaps, in restaurants like this, right now, Japanese people are enjoying their rice and “kimuchi.” Stop. Ideas of shared humanity must not distract us.
Then ― a complaint! The cheese is tasteless, the miso soup weak. What to do? Quick huddle. Various forms of violent action are dicussed ― but our plotting is distracted: We notice booze on the menu.
There is beer, there is soju; chongha, too. Eat drink and be merry... for tomorrow we die. Cheongjong ― a local sake ― costs a mere 2,500 won for a sizable tumbler. This is no smooth, sophisticated brew for haiku poets; this is rough grog for samurai brawlers. Feverishly, we knock it back.
Service is swift and pleasant; lots of happy smiling faces from both chef and ajumma. It may look like a Japanese restaurant, but is run by locals. Good. Still on our side.
Verdict: Ordinary restaurant. Extraordinary times. Enjoy while you can. Sayonara, Takeshima!
English: Some spoken. None on menu.
Tel: (02) 773-9023.
Location: Jung district, central Seoul.
Subway: City Hall or Euljiro 1(il)-ga station, line No. 2.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Dress: Come as you are.
Second opinion: “It was great. Not oily; the pork was thick, but not tough; very soft and tender.” ―Sarah Song, PR executive
by Andrew Salmon