Hey hey, everybody! Welcome to another masterful Mastication Monologues which is just getting better and better as my time in South Korea winds down. Today I’ll be bringing you two Korean specialties that I had been hearing about for ages but never tried until now. First, there is sundae (soon-day) which is not the ice cream treat everyone loves, but rather a sausage made with blood. There is a similar type of sausage in other cuisines like black pudding in England, morcilla in Spain, or kiszka in Poland. However, it’s not for everyone. Naturally, I like going off the beaten path when it comes to food, so my friend Bora took me to a specialty sundae restaurant near Sillim station where we’d meet up with her other friend. I didn’t know what exactly to expect as we walked up the stairs of a pretty dilapidated building, but I was surprised to see how big and popular the place was. People seemed genuinely surprised to see me there as I walked past tables of soju drinkers inhaling the savory scents coming from the large grills in front of them. I couldn’t get a good look at the food since the old woman server was gruffly dragging us to her table. Once seated, we got some sweet aprons that were totally my style…I would be thankful for mine later on in the meal.
They supplied us with a complimentary bowl of grilled liver chunks doused with a sesame sauce and seeds. It was a great antipasto since each piece was firm and packed with rich, meaty tones with shades of the sesame seeds mixed in. Our brusque server proceeded to bring a large grill similar to the aforementioned ones and piled slices of burgundy sundae, chopped and oiled vegetables, and noodles on the hot surface. After about ten minutes of waiting, it was deemed ready to eat. They also provided some sort of chili sauce (center of the grill in the picture) with that seemed like chopped nuts on top which ended up tasting like spicy peanuts. As for the melange of ingredients on the grill, they were fantastic on the whole. The eatery’s specialty, the sundae, was slightly chewy but bursting with a slightly iron-rich tang. My favorite part was the noodles when they fried to a crispy layer that added a welcomed crunch to a mostly chewy meal. I started to slow down eating when my dining companions apparently ordered fried rice, but the restaurant supposedly didn’t have any more rice which was shocking. So the server managed to get some out of her own secret stash in her bag (Why she was carrying rice in her bag in the first place is beyond me) along with some cut-up parsley. It was nothing special. However, what I had next was unique as being touted as the spiciest and most popular soup in Korea.
As if I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Bora and Youngmi brought me to Shingildong Spicy Jjambbong located at 165-5 Shingil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul (신길동 매운짬뽕, 서울특별시 영등포구 신길동 165-5) for the spicy jjampong (seafood noodle soup) challenge. It’s so popular in Korea that their main sign has all of the tv channels it has been featured on, and the actual name of the place is only a small name plaque hanging next to the building off a traditional Korean statue.
For months, Bora and Youngmi had also prepped me for what to expect with the spicy jjampong including: swollen lips, seared nostrils, and a scorched gastro-intestinal tract. There have been cases of people passing out from the heat, and they have plastic bags in the bathroom for people throwing up. The official policy is that you have to puke in the bag and throw it out elsewhere because the proprietors were tired of cleaning up the patrons’ stomach contents constantly. How could I say no? We first purchased plenty of dairy products to fight the inferno I was about to ingest and then walked in. The owner was extremely gregarious and excited that a waygookin (foreigner) was going to take on the challenge. Bora informed him I had tried the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge before, and he said (in Korean), “The donkatsu is just spice with no flavor. My jjampong is spicy and tasty. In my kitchen, it’s pure science.” After a couple snapshots, I sat down like a man condemned to his last meal as I looked around at all of the warning signs I was walking into a disaster. Most of it was in Korean with warnings like “out of body experience”, “I shit fire”, or this lovely one.
Right before the soup came out, they gave me a mountain of pickled yellow radish slices which was another ominous omen. Before I knew it, I was face to face with the infamous cauldron of doom. My fear must have gotten the best of me as I was trying to find the right way to eat it and even forgot how to use chopsticks as shown in my video. Skip ahead to 1:30 if you want to see me actually eating the noodles and skip all of my fumbling and commentary.
When the noodles finally got cool enough to eat, I slurped them up much to the horror of the spectators watching this exercise in pain. I found the spicy kick to have an immediate effect, but it was mainly focused on my tongue as it was enveloped in a blanket of spice.
It was like eating a mouthful of habaneros, but it wasn’t terrible. The fumes were actually noxious and bothered my nose now and then, but Youngmi and Bora were actually coughing. I picked out the mussels and focused on the noodles. The owner came out to check how I was doing, and I was coping with it like a champ to his dismay. So he then proceeded to feed me the broth on the spoon with a “here comes the airplane” baby technique which was pretty funny. However, I realized that the broth was a million times spicier than the soaked noodles, and the vegetables were the worst part since they were like little sponges soaking up the devil’s potion. Bora told me the radish slices are traditionally put on the tongue to alleviate the diner’s suffering, so I gave it a shot. I think she just wanted me to look silly, but it did help a little bit.
Overall, I came through with flying colors for my final spice challenge in Korea, and the owner was right; his soup was extremely flavorful with a spice that was the equivalent of a raging forest fire in my mouth. So if you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge or want to get a good laugh while watching your friends eat it/suffer through it, go to Spicy Jjampong.