I have been a 90% vegan for approximately 3 years. But recently I had heard about a Korean soup restaurant and so I skipped and hopped out of work today in the middle of work to get lunch that’s about an hour’s drive away. “Follow your bliss,” was how I justified this decision, as I walked toward the parking lot, hoping that my boss wasn’t watching me from her corner office glass window. It was on such a raining, cold, gray day.
The restaurant was nearly empty when I got there at about 2:30PM. Two Korean men were drinking beer and watching a Korean game show on the big screen.
The restaurant wasn’t exactly pleasant, it smelled like wet chlorine or a cross between a slaughter house and a swimming pool.
I ordered something called the “pork neck bone soup with vegetable.” I was famished. When they brought out the kimchee I was not waiting. It looked so tasty!
The waitress came by and spoke to me in Korean. I motioned that I didn’t speak the language. Then a middle aged woman appeared. She appeared to be in her late 50’s. Before I knew what was going on, she was saying to me, “Slow down! Slow down! Don’t eat so fast! You must be hungry! We bring you another bowl of rice, okay?” She looked slightly amused/confused as if she had just sighted a 3 headed animal. Her accent was thick, but I could understand 90% of her English.
Well, truth be told, I was very hungry and had been thinking about this meal since the night before. Outside it was dreadful – wet, windy, cloudy, gray, cold, a little bit like how I was feeling. On the table was this marvelous soup, served in a sizzling clay pot looking devilishly spicy, and exceedingly tasty. Yum! (Steam rising!)
At first I didn’t know how to tackle this big pot of bubbling small volcano in front of my face. It looked so tasty but slightly dangerous to taste because it was too hot. I poked at the hotpot with my chopsticks and looked at it from the sideways. A spoon came from the left field. The Korean woman was handing a spoon to me. Right! A spoon would be very helpful! Then the woman asked me how I came to know of this restaurant, how I knew to order the best dish on the menu, her favorite dish. Soon after, she was taking over my chopsticks to fish out the pieces of meat, and rearranging my tableware. She didn’t ask for permission. She just butted into my food business. I felt like a small child, letting someone rearrange the food on my plates. But for some reason her gestures felt refreshing, and pampering. After her unsolicited food rearrangement, now, rice is rice, vegetables are vegetables, broth is broth, condiments are condiments, and voila, there’s even a little plate of pork bones. Oh, that’s how you eat this hot mess!
She motioned the waitress to bring a bottle of sesame oil, and suggested that I mix in the radish sauce and the sesame oil with the rice. Before I knew what was happening, I was giving her the two thumbs up, and trying everything as she instructed. She was a little Napoleon of a woman. She was telling me how to eat. Now I am eating the meat on the pork bones with my hands, and eating raw peppers dipped in sweet bean paste. With a drib of hot sauce out of the corner of my mouth probably.
Now she sits herself down opposite from me, as if we have made a lunch date. It seems odd that someone would take over my eating utensils, and invite themselves to sit down.
All the while, she’s watching how I was eating, making orders the waitress to bring out more stuff. “This is my favorite dish! Do you like it?” Underneath her joking tone was a critical, slightly icy. It was a bold stare of someone who’s seen it all.
That’s when the story telling began… “I was never a good girl. Had no education. But my husband, very good.” She had to run the family business. She was sent to high school but couldn’t deal with German, algebra, and European history. She ended up in a community college for 2 years, and came to the US. She was going to school but figured that it wouldn’t do her any good so she opened a business. With $10,000, she succeeded at her first business, which was running a bar with a stage for rock and roll. The bar was stationed near a military base. For $10,000, they bought some land as well. To make a long story short, in 25 years, that piece of land alone is worth $2 million USD.
I told her nothing about myself, other than my liking for this neck bone soup, and that I felt that the flavors of the soup was wonderfully sharp, not sweet.
Last year her husband of 40 years passed away. She looked at me in the eyes when she told me this, and said emphatically, “When you are young, you must enjoy it, everything, everyday. Because once the eyes are closed, there isn’t anything anyone can do. There is nothing, nothing, nothing anyone can do.”
She must have mentioned the part about “once the eyes are closed, etc.” at least 3 times. She had a little tears in her eyes.
When I got up to leave, she said, “I’ll walk out with you.” When she got up with all her get up, I had to do a double take. Hahaha! The woman was dressed from head to toe like a rapping gangsta – in matching black jump suit with two white stripes, some sick white sneakers and a pair of gold sunglasses! Her hair was dyed. Her veneer teeth were perfect. So we walked out the restaurant together. A sense of pride welled up in me. I don’t know why. I felt like a gangster myself. A toothpick in my teeth would have completed the ensemble.
She said, “Shit, I had no idea what’s going on in high school.” She looked in her 50’s I said, What?!?!?! You’re 73 years old?!?!?!?! Then the next day, she called me to thank me for fixing her refrigerator. I told her to turn off her refrigerator for 6 hours to let it reset and the humming noise would go away.
So she’s the gangsta grandma. I’m not sure when I will have the neck bone soup again, even if it is salvaging a part of the animal that would have gone to waste, i.e., gnawing on the bones that no one else wants to eat. I really loved this soup, but hate everything that has to do with animal husbandry.