Monday, August 30, 2010

The Origin of the Leftovers:The 물냉면 (Mul Naengmyon) Story

Originally, when I came to Korea, I intended to start only one blog. This was to be a photo blog using pixels to document my journey around the Hermit Kingdom, and I liked this particular blog format because it allowed me to practice a passion that I wanted to become better at (photography) while simultaneously allowing my viewers to minimize their time keeping up with my whereabouts.

Fate rather than desire led me to become the author of this blog. During my favorite unit of Korean classes (Chapter 6: Food, obviously), our teacher provided my classmates and me with the information that his favorite Korean dish was 물냉면 (Mul Naengmyon).

This information soon began a revolution in food criticism.

The avid eater that I am recognized this aforementioned type of food immediately, probably because I had consumed an entire bowl of this delectable treat rather quickly the weekend preceding this class discussion. Our teacher quickly sensed that I knew what this type of food was, that the rest of the class had no idea what he was talking about, and that his English was far too limited to describe the complexities of the dish to a group of students that did not share his first language.

Carefully, he asked, "Justin, could you explain class 물냉면?"

I sure could.

And that was the end of this blog's beginning.

For between two or three minutes of class time I waxed poetic about the contrasts and contradictions inherent within this simple yet elegant dish: the crunchiness of the cucumber coupled with the sliminess of the buckwheat noodle, the chill of the vinegar and beef broth thickened with a warming chili paste, the refreshing nature of the small granules of shaved ice providing momentary solace from the most humid of restaurant venues.

While I viewed this impromptu description as an accurate yet entertaining analysis of a traditional Korean chilled soup with a beef stock base and soba noodles, my classmates thought it was literally the most ridiculous thing that they had ever heard. Following this episode:

1.) My classmates nicknamed me "Duung Duung", the Korean adjective for 'fat';

2.) Several members of my class decided to hone derisive imitations of my modest culinary narratives;

3.) The class even awarded me the stupendous superlative of 'Most Likely to Eat your Leftovers'.

These dubious distinctions taught me a very valuable life lesson. Sure, snapping basic pictures of Korean tourist sites might help me improve my camera skills and serve as a reminder to others back home that I still exist, nevertheless, eating Korean food (for which others have noticed my prodigal prowess) and describing the overwhelming diversity of Korean cuisine with an excess of adjectives and metaphors will, I believe, have the power to inspire the world.

Or at least entertain my friends and family for thirty to forty-five minutes a week. Who knows...

Stay tuned.