Gamjatang, according to Wikipedia, is “a spicy Korean soup made with pork spine, vegetables, green onions, hot peppers and ground wild sesame seeds”. It’s deep red in color, slightly spicy on account of the peppers, and served with a variety of accoutrements, including the ubiquitous kimchi. It was also our accidental dinner last night after Day 1b concluded.
The plan was to go “down the hill” and find some Korean BBQ for dinner. The Paradise Casino is located on the side of a hill here in Seoul – Walker Hill, named after American Gen. Walton Walker, commander of American forces during the Korean War. There’s not much up on the hill other than the casino, a Sheraton, and a W hotel. To do anything or to go anywhere, you have to go down the hill.
We were assured by various people, including Team PokerStars Pros Bryan Huang and Celina Lin, that it would be impossible to miss the BBQ places at the bottom of the hill. “Just look for the service station,” Bryan said. “The place we ate in had hubcaps for seats,” said Celina.
We had all seen the service station on our way to a café for breakfast before the start of the day’s play. How hard could it be to find BBQ from there?
Turns out, harder than we thought. When push came to shove, four white guys – a New Yorker and three Australians – were wandering around aimlessly near the service station, unable to spot any Korean BBQ joints. None of us could read any of the Korean signs, and the sum total of Korean words the four of us knew could be counted on one hand.
Twice we passed by a small restaurant behind the service station, unsure if it was the BBQ joint we were looking for. When we came to it a third time, our hungry bunch decided to “suck it up” and give the place a go. I can only imagine we didn’t enter with very much confidence, as it felt like all ten other people in the place stopped and turned to watch the confused, hesitant foreigners stumble into their midst.
The proprietor came to our table and (I presume) asked what we wanted. My blogging partner and drunk-in-arms Heath Chick knew that “Cass” is a local brand of beer, so we got the important things out of the way first. After that, our host waved at a menu on the wall:
Note the lack of BBQ.
A group of middle-aged Korean men, deep into several bottles of soju, pointed to their own pot of red stew on their table. “Gamjatang,” they said. Um, sure. Gamjatang. Ok.
One of the Koreans, wearing a pink tie, saw our quizzical looks. He picked some bits of pork and vegetables out of his pot with his chopsticks, then stood up and waved them in the direction of PokerStars video editor Andrew Dorn’s mouth.
Was this 50-something Korean man really trying to spoon feed us?
Yes. Yes he was.
We egged Dorny on until he accepted the morsel. My turn came next. In a matter of moments we had all been spoon-fed pork spine soup by a man old enough to be any of our fathers, a cross-cultural moment rooted in hilarity. The Man in the Pink Tie continued trying to feed us even after our own pot of steaming gamjatang arrived at our table.
The rest of the meal was a hilarity of unintelligible cross-table banter as the Koreans got drunker and drunker on shots of soju and we laughed along with them while resisting any shots of soju waved in our direction. They eventually finished their own meal and bid us farewell. The Man in the Pink Tie thrust a business card into my hand before he and his merry, soused crew ambled out into the night.
This morning PokerStars video host Lynn Gilmartin explained to us that, in Korea, sharing food out of the same pot is a custom used to bond people and bring them closer together. Due to the language barrier, we can’t say we’re any tighter with The Man in the Pink Tie.
But on behalf of Americans and Australians everywhere who can’t speak a lick of Korean, we’d like to thank Mr. Dong-han Kang for taking a shine to us and adding to the collection of travel memories we’re accumulating on this trip to Seoul.
Now about that BBQ…