I couldn’t stop eating in Korea.
I slept only three hours a night, so I ate at least four meals a day, interspersed with salty snacks, desserts, and late-night (early morning?) treats from the convenience store. At the breakfast buffet, I encircled my hard-boiled eggs and sweet jellies with kimchi dumplings wrapped in the soft skin of chewy gluten and moist flour. In the afternoon, we devoured spoonfuls of creamy melon ice cream and handfuls of honey butter almonds. All I wanted was to fall asleep with my belly full of spicy ramen broth and marinated bulgogi and wake up to metal bowls of nourishing seollungtang, a milky beef bone soup. There was Korean BBQ of course, but my favorite dinner was at Todamgol. The best way to describe a traditional Korean dinner is: Everything. Everywhere. All at once. The perfect spread is a symphony of bonchon side dishes. Al dente ddukbokki rice cakes, eraser-sized mochi tubes smothered in bright red, spicy chili paste. Salted, grilled fish splayed open and harboring quills of splintery bones. Round bindaettok mung bean pancakes, light and crispy around the edges, nutty and hearty otherwise. The small, circular white bowls are arranged haphazardly into a mosaic and clatter like air hockey as the enthusiasm grows and inhibitions are lowered. Smooth, crystal clear soju dances back and forth between shot glasses. Chilled, golden beer collects in small reservoirs around the plates, and then eventually on us and the floor. Later tonight, I’ll enjoy a tray of cold watermelon slices and crescents of crunchy pears at the karaoke bar. In bed, as my 500-pound eyelids concede and the ambitious sun presses against my hotel curtains, I promise myself that I’ll find trendy Korean salt bread in the city tomorrow. I’ve missed this all – the people, the newness, the adventure.
And I can’t stop eating.