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The Liquor’s in the Melon: My First Encounter with Korean Cuisine

April 8, 2010

I consider myself to be a pretty worldly person, in that sometimes I watch BBC World News in the morning and I totally know that cricket is a sport and not just an insect. I would also describe myself as “adventurous” in the food department. I’ve eaten fried crocodile without a second thought, kangaroo wrapped in sushi, and once I actually had a sip out of a warm can of Foster’s beer. Bear Grylls has nothing on me.

So imagine my surprise when my two cousins invited me out for Korean food and I found myself wondering what the heck that meant (only after agreeing to go, of course). Thus, a full-blown food adventure was set into motion.

Meet my dinner dates and dearly beloved relatives, Margaret and Toby:

These two once brought a bottle of saké to our Christmas family dinner. So yeah, they’re the cool cousins.

The restaurant was called Myung Dong 1st Ave on Harvard Ave in Allston. I probably walked by it a million times and never noticed, which is shocking because the pop music they play is deafening. I was waiting for them to hand me some earmuffs after we arrived.

The walls were bright and teal, the tiny white lights omnipresent, and like I said, it was LOUD in there. We sat down next to a rowdy bunch of college students (oh, to be young again) and because Toby and I are blood-related, we both went right to the soju section. He explained to me that soju was a lot like saké (both are rice beverages), and in Korean soju literally means “burned wine.” Since I’m a huge saké fan, I was excited to go ahead and do a soju bomb. But lo and behold, our soju was brought to us…in a ginormous melon.

With a pink umbrella too!

Turns out, I do not really enjoy soju when served in fruit. They add a lot of sugar to the mix so the vodka taste becomes really sweet and well, fruity. Plus, I think they add milk, and the whole thing tasted like an alcoholic smoothie. So not my style. I would recommend other saké enthusiasts to try soju straight before getting all fancy schmancy with the fruits and the tiny feminine umbrellas.

Now I naively came to this dinner thinking that since Toby and Margaret had eaten Korean food before, they’d be able to expertly recommend specific dishes while brazenly demonstrating their vast knowledge of Korean cuisine.

Instead, we just ordered as much as we could off of the menu without really knowing what anything was. I refer to this technique as “menu-bombing.” This way, you get a good array of different foods while also pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Plus, you have to like at least ONE dish out of sixteen, right?

Chicken and veggies with some kind of magical sauce

Little fishies. Tasted like anchovies (can you see the tiny eyeballs?)

These pancake thingies (scientific name) were the best part of the evening! We also had kimchi (pickled dishes made of vegetables with varied seasonings), pork and rice cakes, and tofu.

All in all, it was a very interesting dining experience. If I had to give one summary of lessons learned for the night, it would be this: Korean food is spicy! So if you decide to carry out a menu-bombing mission at your neighborhood Korean place, remember not to shove that innocent looking salad into your mouth. If you do, it will taste like you just inhaled the sun.

And don’t try washing the spicy salad down with the melon-shaped soju milkshake. It won’t help.

– Alison

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2010 5:01 pm

    MMmmmm …. I LOVE Korean food. Fortunately, in Seattle we have quite a few options. And as for the scientifically-named pancake thingies, you are sooo right. They are absolutely delicious. We usually have ours with assorted seafood like octopus and shrimp. Yummy. 🙂

    Oh, and I love the assortment of small plates and pickled veggies that accompany any Korean meal.

    Gah! Now I want Korean food and it’s not even 10am. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Harriman permalink
    April 9, 2010 3:33 pm

    Yay! More people are eating Korean food! 한국음식 만세!

    To avoid the spicy dishes, next time order bulgogi beef, chapchae noodles, sollangtang soup, kalbitang soup, or samgyetang soup. Can’t go wrong with that stuff. And with bibimbap rice it starts out bland then you can usually add hot sauce (or not) to your own taste.

    In case you want to order it again, the pancakes usually go under the name of buchingae (pancakes in general), kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes), or haemulpajeon (seafood & scallion pancakes).

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