After class tonight some new Korean “friends,” a fellow English teacher, and I went out for dinner and drinks. We went to an incredible, traditional Korean “course” restaurant named 불리 in Baekseok-dong, a neighborhood just outside of where I live in Cheonan. The food, while most certainly Korean, was a fusion of old-style tastes and themes presented and dressed up in modern fashion. The main event of the meal (for me) was one that only one daring member of our party partook in: 홍어 (hong-eo). Hong-eo, or more descriptively to those of you not familiar with Korean cuisine: fermented skate, is an intense dish of the fermented fish meat, served together with steamed fatty pork and spicy kimchi. The fish is eaten with the mentioned accompaniments in order to mellow out (or cover up?) its strong uric acid taste.
While eating it was not an option for your truly (ah to be vegetarian in Asia…), I definitely had to smell the dish. And let me tell you– it smelled like a bottle of ammonia.
The one brave enough to eat the two plates of hong-eo told us that when you eat the meat, it makes you have to cough. I swear I saw him make a face as he ate it– kind of like the face one would make after taking a shot of tequila. And yes, he did cough after eating it (a few times a that!). I also read that the skate meat, fermented or no, is fairly chewy (like eating cartilage). As the man is a doctor, he told me after the fact that he didn’t think that eating the dish was actually healthy for people, but because it is fermented there’s a chance that it might be good for digestion. Sounds fantastic!