Thursday, September 16, 2010
When our company, O’ngo Food Communications (www.ongofood.com) started our night dining tours, our concept was to introduce real Korea to tourists and have them experience the culture through the cuisine. It has become our most popular tour with over 200 participants.
We start our tour around the shops of working class people around Kwangjang Market. As night falls, the busy streets become calm and craftsmen and shops turn off their lights and the business energy transforms into joviality as workers shake off the dust of the day’s toil over tin cups of rice wine and platters of fried, crispy potato latkes-like pancakes (bindaetteok).
Our guests that join our tour are very excited about Korea. It is an actualization of a dream for them. They have read about Korea from books and magazines, they have seen it on television and in movies, and they have heard about it from other travelers. They are optimistic, excited, and even a little scared.
Our first stop is Kwangjang Market. The highlights of the market tour are the “narcotic kimbap (rice rolls so delicious, they’re addictive)”, old men talking over platters of juicy pig trotters, and stalls selling fresh fish, beans, vegetables, and ceremonial sets of rice cakes, dried beef, and jujubes.
After the market we head over to Jongno to eat some barbecue with soju. Korean barbecue seems to be one of the top favorites among all my guests. They seem shocked as hot coals are brought to the table and put into the stove. Then as the meat start sizzling they seem transfixed- like they were staring at a campfire. Once the meat is finished cooking they revel in wrapping in leaves with different sauces and cloves of roasted garlic. The flavors of the food seem so unique that often I see guests even add kimchi and banchan to their lettuce and barbecue wraps (something that catches the eyes of local Koreans as they comment and point).
Round 3 we head over to a tent restaurant on the street and
we have snacks with a distilled rice drink that tastes like sake. The idea of being under the tent is also very exciting for everyone and they comment about how outerworldly it is to be in a tent, on the street, having drinks. The kind tent owners always give extra food to the tourists for it is so unusual to have foreigners visit them.
The tour ends with some Korean rice wine in a traditional Korean house. The tranquil setting brings forth enlightened conversation about how surprising Korea is.
Nobody that comes on the tour ever gets rolling on the floor drunk. They seem to be more into how it feels to be a real Korean person on a night out. In Korea, people don’t drink to get drunk, it’s a vessel to get to know each other better. The food is there to stop one from drinking to excess and it is much healthier to drink with food. At the end of the evening, everyone becomes friends and they have a memory that they’ll keep forever: the evening they became Korean and did what the locals do.