Jet lag was kind enough to finally release me from its grip, and just in time for my birthday! The past few years I’ve been a bit reluctant about my birthdays. I was not thrilled to be older and wiser, and my twenties were moving a bit too quickly. However, this year I am embracing 28 and all the adventures that are sure to come with it! My wish was to be in Korea by my birthday; wish granted!
Koreans, along with other East Asian countries, determine age differently than we do in the US. A baby is considered to be age one on the day it is born. Then the baby would be 2 years old on what an American would celebrate as the baby’s first birthday. With me so far? It gets a little trickier. This baby doesn’t turn 2 years old on the specific anniversary of his or her birth. All Koreans gain one year on the Korean New Year, known as Seollal, which is the first day of the lunar calendar. In 2013, the Korean New Year was on February 10. So, if a baby was born on February 8, 2013, it would be considered one year old for just two days. On February 10, 2013, that two day old baby would be two years old! At least, I think this is true based on my research. It’s still a little funny for me to wrap my head around it. By Korean age standards, I am 29 years old. I may be embracing 28 this year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
For my birthday, Jared gave me a mirrorless camera. I am slowly learning how to use it. I asked for a camera so that I can take my own pictures for this blog and begin a new hobby. Jared sent the camera to me while he was already in Korea, but I was still in the US. Being a clever man, he included this note as a reference to my blog’s inspiration: “The world is a book. Now you can illustrate it.” Gotta love a good quote reference!
While I was impatiently waiting to fly to Korea, Jared had a few dining experiences with friends here in Korea. His absolute favorite restaurant was Dino Meat Grill House, and he knew that this would be the perfect place for my birthday dinner. Yes, “Dino” as in “dinosaur.” (I found this review of the same restaurant, but in a different city. It says, “Honestly, it really should be called Dino-mite meats because it’s absolutely fantastic!” Dino-mite. Man, that’s clever. I’m completely jealous that I didn’t think of it.) Their emblem is of a friendly Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus. Jared and the Dino-mite reviewer were correct; this place is mouth-watering, can’t-wait-to-return, gotta-have-it-now delicious.
There are various locations throughout the country; we went to the one located in Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul. We took the bus and then the metro to Bangbae Station (exit 3 is closest to the restaurant). The outside of the restaurant is rather nondescript, as it is located on the second floor of the building; I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I were just walking down the street. Like our dak galbi restaurant, there was a grill located at the table. Some of the tables are Korean style and on the floor, but we sat at a table with chairs.
As soon as we were seated, the server brought us water, metal plates, and set up our grill. We took our plate up to a raw meat buffet. Behind glass doors, there were about a dozen huge piles of different selections of raw beef and pork. Carnivores rejoice! We selected our meats and piled them high on our metal plate. When we returned to our table, our server brought us all kinds of side dishes. There was barely any room left on the table because it was so full of plates. We were given our own tongs and scissors to use and left to our own devices. Grillmaster Jared selected the first few cuts of meat and placed them on our sizzling personal grill.
I made my first attempt to order in Korean. Each table has a button to call for service; it makes a little doorbell chime to let the servers know you need something. I think it is an excellent system. Much better than either a server who hovers or one that is never there when you need something. So, I rang our little bell and when the server came near, I said, “Soju!” I don’t know “please” yet, so I basically just rang a bell and demanded wine. However, it worked and we had soju within seconds.
This type of meal is known as Korean barbecue, or beef ‘n leaf. Jared walked me through the meal process. Each person has a small dish of oil placed in front of him or her. While the meat cooks, you place lettuce and onion in your oil dish so they can soak up the yumminess. Then a cooked, bite size piece of grilled meat is taken and placed in the same oil dish. With one hand, left for me, you take a piece of non-oiled lettuce (sangchu) and cup it so it makes a bowl. Using your chopsticks you take the meat from the oil dish and dip it in a salt mixture, or a spicy sauce mixture, or both. The meat is placed in the lettuce wrap and any other sides can be added in. We had kimchi, some type of coleslaw with a sweet, orange sauce (my favorite), onion, rice, and garlic. It’s all wrapped up into a lettuce ball and then shoved into your mouth in one bite. It has to be one bite. I had gotten over zealous with one of my wraps, and it was too big; I tried to eat it in two bites, and it sadly fell apart. I don’t know what it is about this meat, but it was delicious. Tender, juicy, and mouth-watering. I ate a few pieces straight from the grill because I didn’t want to wait through the wrap making process.
Did you catch that “using your chopsticks” phrase? I was horrible at it. There was a lot more movement than straight from the plate to my mouth. I used the chopsticks to take the meat off the grill, into the oil, dipped in salt, coat it in sauce, and on the wrap, plus all the side dishes. There were bits of rice and coleslaw all over the table. For the picture below, I was supposed to be lightly dipping the meat into the sauce. Instead it plopped right in, and I had to fish it out. Jared said that I made him feel better about his own chopstick use. He didn’t mean “I feel better because we struggle together.” Nope. He meant that he felt better about his own chopstick prowess, because I was so much worse than him.
The servers came a few times to replace our grill pan with a shiny, clean one. At on point we needed more lettuce, and Jared had a difficult time requesting it. A server finally figured out what we needed and brought it to us. A moment later, another server approached. He pointed to the lettuce and said, “Sangchu. It’s called sangchu.” So kind! Now I know that my lettuce needs will always be met! I also learned “kon bae,” which means “cheers!”
This was my first birthday in a foreign country, and it didn’t disappoint. A new country, a new camera, and a new favorite restaurant. I feel that it really set the tone for the next year. It’s going to be. . . dino-mite. (Yup, still jealous.)