The importance of choosing a restaurant’s nameRestaurants are flooding Korea. I once tried counting the number of fried chicken joints in my neighborhood. By the time I got to 16 within several blocks, I gave up.
Nevertheless, new restaurants are sprouting up every week. So I admit there has to be a way to stand out. Some restaurants in Seoul, though, go a bit over the edge.
First, there are the names.
If I ever go mad and run for district head, I might seriously consider holding an open competition for the city’s most eccentric restaurant names. By now, most of us are probably familiar with the renowned chicken franchise named “Oh My Chicken.” In Sinchon, there is a bar named “sul.zip,” which means tavern in Korean. In Busan, there is a classic clam soup restaurant called “Give us the money. We will give you rice. Give us more, we will give you the soup.” A hof is named “Jan Beers,” a synonym in Korean for “Fill the Empty Glass.” (As a separate issue, I just found the name of a rat poison called “Mouse Friend.”)
But most of all, one my favorite signboards in my neighborhood is a barbershop called the “Foreigner’s Hair Expert.”
Another common factor among signs on Korean restaurants is printing the names of the television programs on which their places have appeared. My only concern in such cases is that there is no way of checking that. You want to believe that the restaurants are telling the truth, but I’ve been to too many restaurants in odd places throughout Seoul where I’ve had a strong suspicion after tasting their food that no right-minded columnists from accredited media would have been likely to rave about them.
There are actually parodied signs in campus districts where restaurants put out signs like “a restaurant that ‘will soon’ be introduced on MBC,” or “a restaurant that was ‘nearly aired’ on MBC.”
It disturbs me even more to discover the signatures of celebrities in restaurants I go to. If they add dull remarks to the owners like, “Make lots of money and become a rich man, Mr. Kim,” it compels me to switch the channel the next time I see them in TV dramas.
But the true irony, I would say, is the notes from politicians left on the restaurants’ walls two or three months before they were arrested on bribery charges, saying things like “Peace and Humanity.” (This is no joke!)
For pesky customers like me, it would be a good idea for restaurant owners to screen their celebrity signatures every few months, taking down the names of those who might provide uncomfortable reminders to their customers.
For signs of politicians, there is a perfect restaurant to go to in northern Seoul called “Bujeong Buffet,” a synonym in Korean for “a corrupt government.” On its menu one could only expect to see slimy grilled eel.
How to Cook
Ingredients: 1 eel (600 grams), 4 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, 50g ginger, 2 teaspoons rice wine, 1 flower leaf, pepper
1. Remove the head and tail from the eel. Slice its underbelly and remove the insides. Cut into three or four pieces.
2. In a bowl, add soy sauce, sugar, rice wine and ground ginger. Add eel. Marinate overnight.
3. In a steamer, cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
4. Remove from steamer. Spread the eel pieces on a grill, and brush with a thin layer of the remaining sauce. Grill. Turn them over.
5. Serve with pickled ginger.
by Park Soo-mee