Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ppondaegi - The Cornnuts of the East

My initial brush with this dish occurred here in the States. I saw a picture of it in one of my LonelyPlanet guidebooks and thought to myself, “Sweet Monkey Jesus! There is no way on God’s green Earth I am going to try that.” In the end, fair reader, I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

I finally saw my first “live” ppondaegi while walking back to the car in Sokcho. May and her mother decided we all needed after dinner coffee and the booth they selected happened to also be selling ppondaegi. I glanced in the pot and I have to admit I was tempted for a second or two, but it looked like there was some serious nast going on in there. The water in which the larva is boiling turns black, making the whole operation seem a little suspect to my not quite as open as I would like to think mind. In addition to the visuals ppondaegi has a very distinct earthy smell that, while not unpleasant, some people find off-putting. I went ahead and drank my coffee and avoided the ppondaegi for the evening.

The next day we traveled to the Reunification Observatory to take a peak into the DMZ. It is here, on the borders of the Axis of Evil, that I slipped and tried ppondaegi. May is crazy about the stuff and finally broke down and bought a cup as we were preparing to leave the Observatory and head to Seoraksan National Park. May offered me the ppondaegi and after some teasing from Charlie I went ahead and popped one, just one, of the little buggers into my mouth. Like the smell, the taste was earthy and not unpleasant. It was actually kind of bland and, my curiosity sated, I did not feel the need to buy a cup of my own. I washed the ppondaegi down with a gulp of Coke and it was at this point I began to fear I had done a terrible thing. Even after a good swishing with Coke, the flavor of the ppondaegi was still with me.

As we drove backs towards Sokcho and Seoraksan I made the horrifying discovery that ppondaegi is the Cornnuts of the East. In addition to a distinctive and powerful smell that tells everyone within two blocks that there is ppondaegi to be had, you can taste it every time you burp. For the next two days. Regardless of what you consume in the interim, the flavor stays with you.

Now I would not discourage anyone from trying the ppondaegi, however I would like all of my readers to have fair warning before they jump in to the whole scene.

No comments: