Sunday, January 17, 2016

Buramun and Impressionism

I went out with Ligament yesterday. The day was totally of her design: she proposed that we meet at the Seoul Yesulae Jeondang, the Seoul Arts Center near Nambu Bus Terminal, to eat a special kind of Chinese food and to stroll through an exhibition of Impressionist landscapes. Ligament had been to this Chinese place before; its specialty, she said, was that it used rice flour for its tangsuyuk (the Korean equivalent of sweet-and-sour pork). That sounded interesting, so I told Ligament that her plan was perfect.

I had forgotten that the arts center wasn't actually next to the subway station: you have to walk almost ten minutes to get to the center's entrance. The restaurant in question, called Buramun, was a little past halfway to the center. Ligament, who considers herself something of a gilchi (someone bad with directions and navigation—the terms means, roughly, "road-blind"), got us to the eatery just fine. Along the way, she told me that the bu in Buramun was the same bu in the word buja, i.e., a rich person. I already knew that mun meant "door" or "gate." When I got home, I looked up the ra character; it means something like "profit," so I guess bura (rich[es] and profit) is yet another Sino-Korean pleonasm. The three characters together probably mean something like "Gate of Riches."

We sat down. I deliberated over what to eat, and we ended up ordering gganpung-gi, or sweet-and-sour fried chicken, along with the much-anticipated tangsuyuk. I winced at what this was doing to Ligament's wallet—both dishes were expensive—but she was determined to pay me back for having treated her to a high-end buffet at D'Maris two weeks earlier.

I got a shot of the gganpung-gi, but completely forgot to get a pic of the tangsuyuk. That's a shame, because (1) the tangsuyuk was definitely the better of the two dishes, and (2) when it came out, the tangsuyuk was presented very differently from what normal, take-out tangsuyuk looks like: instead of being small strips of deep-fried pork (see here), the pig had been sliced into largish cutlets, almost like Japanese-style donggaseu/donkatsu. We were given meat scissors to cut the pork down to bite-sized morsels. Ligament did all the serving, and she ended up shoveling 90% of the food onto my small plate. She eats like a bird, she does. We ended up finishing both plates, which was good because I didn't want to carry around a doggie bag while we were in the arts center.

Here's a shot of the gganpung-gi:

The chicken had also been coated and fried in rice flour, just like the pork, so maybe I should talk about that a bit. There's a clear difference in texture between rice flour and the usual deep-fried cornstarch batter, but whether or not that difference is pleasant will depend greatly on your attitude toward glutinous food. The batter's exterior was crunchy because it had been deep-fried, but the batter's interior was a whole other story: it was sticky and chewy as hell, as in cling to your teeth chewy. I'm often fascinated by textural contrasts, so I found this interesting in a Spock-like way. The meat and the sauce made the whole experience quite tasty, so I had no trouble working through both dishes—pig and chicken—but I'd have to say that this isn't something I'd rush back to again. It was a unique experience, and interesting in a scientific way, but it had the potential to make your jaw ache from all the chewing, sort of like trying to eat your way through a pack of Gummi bears.

Here's the restaurant's exterior:

We headed out after finishing everything; I was pleasantly full after Ligament's deliberate attempt to make me explode by feeding me most of the food. It was only about a five-minute walk from the restaurant to the Seoul Arts Center; we weren't sure, at first, where to go for the Impressionism exhibit, but we eventually found our way there.

The entrance fee was W15,000 per person; I paid this as a way of thanking Ligament for dinner. An attendant waved us through the entrance, warning us that photos weren't allowed. Dammit, I thought, but there was little I could do.

The exhibit took us through landscapes by both the better-known and lesser-known Impressionists; the tour was designed to occur in phases: Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and neo-Impressionism. I found the exhibit to be fascinating, overall; because I do a bit of art myself, I'm often sensitive to other artists' techniques. One thing I'm not, however, is reverent toward the greats. I saw some Van Goghs, for example, that were spellbinding, but I also saw Van Goghs that, frankly, sucked, almost as if the artist didn't have his heart in what he was doing. By looking at the nature of the brushstrokes on a painting, I could often tell whether the artist was the patient sort or the impatient sort.

Ligament's favorite Impressionist turned out to be Sisley, the Brit who did plenty of landscapes of the English countryside. I was amused to see that most Impressionists handled things like sky and water in the same way—by using brusque horizontal strokes. They also handled tree branches the same way: by overloading the paintbrush and dragging it across the canvas to produce thin, squiggly branches that were, biologically speaking, laughably inaccurate. Once I recognized this tendency among the Impressionists, I became more attracted to the artists who were exceptions. Alas, because I couldn't take any photos, I'm unable to name those artists for you.

As I said, I wasn't reverent toward the masters: they're just people, after all, and as a result, I came away from the exhibition liking 90% of what I'd seen and thinking that the remaining 10% was garbage. The paintings that turned me off were the ones that looked as though the artist hadn't cared about what he was doing. Had I been able to take photos, I'd have gladly written a long blog post that went painting-by-painting through the entire exhibition, with separate reactions for each work of art, explaining why I liked this and hated that.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Ligament wants to visit Buramun again soon; I'm in no hurry, but the food was good and, if enough time passes, I'll be happy to go back.



Bratfink said...

I do not understand this No Photographs rule at all.

Frank said...

I do miss the tangsuyuk. The sweet and sour pork American Chinese restaurants serve, at least around here, is horrible.

Kevin Kim said...


Yeah, I'm a fan of the Korean version, too.