뚝배기 예술 (Ddukbaegi Yesul) is a 20 second walk from my apartment. It’s a small, colorful restaurant specializing in Ddukbaegi dishes. Ddukbaegi is a korean word for a glazed, earthenware pot, used to serve soups and stews. Yesul means art. And I can testify to the food here really being art. It might not be the highest quality ingredients, but it’s absolutely tasty. It’s cheap as well, which doesn’t hurt. Hence the reasons I come by so often. Most importantly, however, is the atmosphere. I feel comfortable here. American baseball is often shown on the tv, the walls are painted a light yellow with illustrations of birds, and the staff are wonderful. I’m now always greeted with smiles and often leave with a handshake from the boss. Recently, I’m even given extra dishes, today watermelon as a post meal refresher in this summer heat.
As much as I like adventure, I also crave familiarity, and I’m a regular at a few restaurants around my apartment. It’s nice now a days because I’ve become familiar with enough people in my area that I’ve developed a sense of community in my pocket of this large metropolis. I’m carving out a sense of home for myself here. Language being one of the most important factors in this.
Today at lunch, the middle aged woman who usually waits on me invited conversation by asking about my friend. She asked, “is she your girlfriend?” In korean culture many still disbelieve in the possibility of maintaining platonic relationships with the opposite sex, so I had to explain she’s just my friend and my girlfriend’s korean. I promised to invite my girlfriend next time. Rather than stopping here, she began asking more questions, and to my surprise I was able to follow her. She asked how long I will stay in korea, what I’m studying, how I met my girlfriend, when I’ll marry….koreans have no trouble asking very straight forward and direct questions upon first meeting. I had fun with this though, telling her I need time to think but marriage is a possibility in the future. I was able to stretch my language a bit, but it all felt pretty comfortable to me, another pleasant surprise.
After talking, i returned to my dish and speaking with my friend. I had a big bowl of yukgaejang (육개장) to work on. 육개장 is a spicy beef soup with onions and peppers. It’s one of my favorite korean dishes. Here they put a nice twist on it, adding sweet potato noodles with a side of make-it-yourself bibimbap and a plethora of banchan (side dishes). My friend and I fished our meal, paid and the staff said a friendly goodbye. Today I left feeling closer to the woman, having been able to take my language a step further by really engaging in conversation, beyond simple niceties.
For any future visitors, I’ll take you here.