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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Food |
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My Pineapple Soju Nights

Goo Dae Young, the protagonist of the hit K-drama Let’s Eat, describes Korean cuisine as a plain canvas that is waiting to be transformed into a tapestry through the addition of an array of strokes and hues.  

As the street lights smeared blurry through the restaurant window, I gazed out onto a rain-dripped Dixon Street and I finally understood what Dae Young meant. With our dinner plates now empty and waiting to be cleared, we marveled at the number on our table considering we only ordered for two. The Korean term banchan denotes the side dishes that come as part of any main dish. This is a long practice in Korean cuisine, whether at home or in a restaurant. By no means limited to kimchi, banchan is an assortment that varies in colour, texture, and flavour, and should be read as contributing principally to the harmony of the cuisine. 

To get our Saturday night under way, we proceeded to order a few bottles of pineapple soju, drinking it with exaggeration out of shot glasses.

“She’s at it again,” Ashley says to me.

With this as her entry line, Ashley proceeds to narrate the latest hiccup with her on and off girlfriend. It seemed Ashley believed she was on a gallant mission, that there was some art here worth her suffering. She was in love to a high degree, but it was clearly unrequited to an equally high degree. My realist impulse told me she was an absolute sucker, but I fell soft to her conjecture of a romantic dreamscape, one of quiet love, that was serendipitous and true. As such, I failed to give her my true impression — negative Ned kept in a cage.

“Have you ever noticed how there are no knives on Korean dining tables,” I say, attempting to change the subject. Ashley shakes her head.

“Everything is always cut up in the kitchen beforehand, bite-sized, easy to pick up and share. Isn’t that so practical and also polite?” I chirp with glee.  

“Well, that’s because the knives are under the table,” Ashley replies.

With excitable karaoke-going groups sliding up and down the staircase behind us, we are five bottles in and began to variate between pineapple and grapefruit soju. I watched giddily as a couple on the next table tucked into the heap of fried chicken before them. Greasy thighs yet crispy skin. The K-Pop beats were certainly holding up and we were a breezy warm.

Being new to Korean food, Ashley enthusiastically asks the manager a little about kimchi (the classic fermented cabbage with plenty of purported health benefits) and the fermentation process. After a bit of toing and froing, the manager finally concludes that in order to make good kimchi, it doesn’t really matter how ideal or not your cabbage is initially; more important is the right measure of ingredients and keeping it in the right conditions during its incubation.

Startled to hear this, Ashley looks at me. A familiar face yells at us from the staircase, gesturing to come up and join their group for some karaoke. Soju-soaked, we agree, and before long we sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles together.

After a little more soju, song, and then some chalky rice drink I now know as makgeolli, I say to Ashley, “I think we should we head to the Ivy.”

“Yeah, let’s sojourn,” she says with innocence.

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