On the evening before the last day of class in South Korea, the sales guy from the company I work for took all of us out for dinner. He called the place a “tuna restaurant.”
Basically, all the interesting things served came from various parts of the Tuna. The initial platter had six or seven different cuts of sashimi. I would guess several of them were from different muscles — lean versus fatty — and some may have been organ meats like liver, heart, etc.
The side dishes, available continuously, consisted of different types of kimchi — “kimchi” is any preserved vegetable, not just the spicey cabbage — as well as more traditional-looking salad fixings.
Toward the end of the meal, some very small cups were brought out. Without trying to give away what would be poured into them, let me just say they were just about the size of a tuna fish’s eyeball.
The eyeball juice — yes, that’s what we were about to try — was in a small pitcher and each person’s cup was filled with the completely clear liquid. I decided to give it a small sip but it was so viscous, once it started you got the whole thing.
After that, they offered something I think they said came from the fish’s upper intestinal tract but I’m not 100% sure, perhaps because we had finished off several bottles of soju prior to that point.
I watched the others to see what they would do with this highly questionable substance. Our host, not surprisingly because he had ordered it, lifted the spoon into which his portion had been carefully spooned, drank the whole thing down in one gulp. Still watching, two other diners at our table gingerly dipped their metal chopsticks into the yellow-brown liquid and tasted it. They didn’t grimace but, then again, they didn’t go back for more. But most of those native South Koreans at our table just left this item sitting there untouched.
Now, you could say I was courageous, or you could say I was foolish — I’ll blame the soju — but, regardless, I decided to dip my chopsticks and see how it tasted. And either the flavor was completely neutral or I failed to get “the good part” but, tasting nothing in particular, I decided to do the same as I’d done years ago after respectfully tasting fugu, I said, “Thank you. That’s very interesting!” And then letting it sit until the remainder was cleared away a few minutes later.
Such eating adventures are certainly interesting. On these occasions, I remind myself that the locals have been eating this stuff — and mostly surviving — for a very long time.
So as long as it’s unable to get away from me — there was that one very fresh shrimp who simply did not want to get into the shabu-shabu and, instead, scampered off down the hallway until the server could catch it — so as long as it is not too revolting, I’ll give it a try.
And quite often I discover there’s a reason they eat such things — many of them are very good. (The little purple squids in Tokyo fall into this category.)
But I should add that, after returning from such trips and for about a month after, whenever I have an upset stomach or odd pains, visions of ghastly creatures with long fangs growing inside will haunt my suffering moments.
The things I do for my employer!