In true believer style Fuschia and I made a seasonal pilgrimage to the temple of stylish, yet cheap Swedish home goods this week. Like any good church, the folks at Ikea held me up for a considerable tithe. Hey, I might be $400 poorer, but at least I communed with the one god that all Americans share: consumerism.
This is something I've engaged in a remarkable amount this year, which just goes to show that Biggie (and my dad) was totally on it when he said "mo' money, mo' problems" or at least "mo' money, mo' shopping". No doubt only privileged folks in the so-called first world have these sort of qualms over indulging in material goods. Seems like a lot of the world would be excited to have some water, rice and a few health clinics. So basically no matter what I feel silly and guilty. For spending money on luxuries in the first place and for worrying about doing so.
Funny that buying a few lamps, chairs and a dresser can bother me this much considering all the people in this country who spend thousands on their furniture, luxury cars and designer clothes. At least I can tell myself I'm not as ridiculous as those people. Or maybe I can console myself with the thought that one day I can join them in an even more enthusiastic spending orgy. It could go either way....
Despite the buyer's remorse, the traffic headed into Northern KY and the slight shadiness of the Covington, KY area, there was at least one experience from this Cincy trip that left me satisfied. Fuschia's brother and fiance (the self-named Geeks) were kind enough to offer us a trip to their favorite Korean restaurant. I was deeply hesitant about this, as my one previous Korean experience ended with me in a Chik-fil-A drive-thru. You might say my hopes were not very high...
Despite some initial challenges getting in the door (a very confusing double door situation), I immediately liked the feel of the space with it's long, high-ceilinged main room and classic Asian (not red lacquer) decor. Noticing the traditional seating on the right, I was happy to see that our party was being seated in a booth of the sort plump Americans tend to prefer.
Being a veteran in the food wars and a strong Asian cuisine enthusiast, I assumed (wrongly, as it were) that I would be able to divine my food choices through a quick menu perusal. That idea was put to rest in short order and I happily allowed The Geeks to guide me in ordering. We started with a delightful vegetable pancake called Ya Chae Pa Jun. Unlike American pancakes, this one had no starch base and seemed to fall more in the fritatta or quiche category. Since I lack Korean heritage, I'll concede that they can classify their food however they choose....even when they're so obviously wrong.
Our main course, Dolsot Bibim Bab, was served in a style reminiscent of the Mexican restaurant fajita, only in a stone bowl that had been heated to a temperature somewhere between lava and solar flare. I know this because I was dumb enough to touch it, but luckily no one could hear the sizzling of my flesh over the sizzling of the meat we were meant to be cooking.
This molten bowl of rice, chicken and veggies was truly tasty with just a hint of the spice that you find in other Asian foods. I found the flavors to be milder than those of China, less complex than Japanese or Thai food, and much less fragrant than their sub-Asian cousin, Indian cuisine. I was not initally convinced that this Korean fajita bowl was going to please me; it honestly took at least 5 bites to get there. But then something happened, a neuron fired, a sensor pulsed and I realized "hey this is pretty good".
As a bonus/side item we were served an interesting assortment of little pickled things. There were radishes, kimchi, mushrooms, and some sort of candied potato. I only tried a few of them, as my tolerance for vinegar is limited. What these little dishes really did for me was illuminate just how much Korean cuisine is involved in stimulating the umami taste in my mouth. What it lacked in saltiness, sweetness, and spicyness it made up for in this unique flavor so prevalent in Asian cuisine. I found myself wishing that I had more interest in lacto-fermentated foodstuffs, as I'm sure this takes the Korean experience to a different level.