Saturday, September 19, 2015

hanbok 2: the Uzbek coda

Shopping for a hanbok with Anterior Cruciate Ligament proved to be quick and easy... but mainly because I stopped the shopping after the second store we visited. If ACL had had her way, we would have spent hours going around to ten different stores. I'm not that patient of a shopper, and I viscerally despise clothing shopping because Mom traumatized me as a child, repeatedly dragging me all over northern Virginia's Springfield Mall to find clothes that would fit my growing body. In that phase of my life, I grew to hate those shopping trips with a passion, much the way pets hate being taken to the veterinarian. So today I was happy when, on our second try, we found a store—one floor above the first store—that was selling tailored hanboks for almost half the price. We went from W450,000 to W250,000 plus tax.

The two hanbok photos below come from our assay at the first store, so you're not seeing the hanbok that I'll eventually be wearing for Sean's wedding. The official hanbok will be slightly darker. The price tag includes not only the outer garment, but also the inner shirt, the pants, and whatever ceremonial belt or sash will be used to keep the hanbok securely closed.

ACL commented that I looked like a priest, and that's sort of the effect I'm going for: I'm using traditional clothing to evoke something ecclesiastical. Given that most of the wedding guests will know little to nothing about Korean culture, the hanbok's wow factor ought to be enough to get people in a properly serious mindset.

After I had been measured by the cooing ajumma (who said I needed to do some TV work for EBS Broadcasting) and had paid for the outfit, which will be available for pickup this coming October 3, ACL and I left the hanbok shop and wandered over to Saeun Sangga, the electric-and-electronics market that stretches from Jongno to Cheonggyae. I bought another tiny electric fan to take over to my office (ACL batted her eyelashes and somehow got the fan seller to cut another W1,000 off the already-cheap price for the fan), and then I got two screw-adjustable pipe clamps (two for W1,000) that would allow me, finally, to clamp my plastic tube to the A/C drain hose in my bathroom.

I had thought about taking a cab over to Samarkand, but ACL said, "Let's walk!"—so walk we did. ACL bought two large water bottles along the way; she laughed as I sweatily downed mine with the desperate alacrity of a thirsty camel. Koreans almost never sweat.

I had proposed Samarkand as the place to go for an early dinner, and had copied some directions that I had found online. Those directions proved to be extremely poorly written, but they got us to within a couple hundred yards of the place. ACL finally sniffed some foreign food and, following her nose, found the alleyway where Samarkand was located.

The place was empty when we went in. Normally, that's not a good sign, but I'd read too much about what a popular spot this was to think that Samarkand had suddenly lost its reputation. (And as if to confirm that, several groups of Koreans did come into the restaurant later on.) We took a seat in the middle of the small dining area to enjoy the A/C's breeze, then looked at the menu. I had already done some homework as to what the most popular dishes were among the expats, and they are these:

samsa: meat-stuffed pastry, somewhere between a Cornish pasty and an Indian samosa
golubsty: meat-stuffed boiled cabbage leaves
shaslik: skewers of grilled meat
chizbif or chizbiz: french fries topped with fried(?) lamb
pelmeni: meat dumplings
plov: supposedly the national dish, which is basically lamb on rice

Some of the above dishes are visible below:

We ended up ordering the samsa (which ACL didn't eat), the golubsty, the chizbif, and a small loaf of Uzbek bread, which tasted almost exactly like the Afghan bread with which I'm familiar. ACL liked the bread but thought it was too dry. I thought it could have been split in half and fried up with some butter, but I enjoyed the taste all the same, dryness notwithstanding. We ended up dipping the bread into the golubsty juices.

Below is a picture of half of the samsa I'd ordered. It came with a red sauce that I had expected to be spicy, but which ended up being strangely sweet and maybe a bit tomato-y. I spooned it over my samsa, and the whole thing was quite good, although also a bit dry because the meat stuffing itself wasn't liquidy.

I could hear my mother's voice telling me to eat my veggies, so I ordered a salad of tomato, cucumber, and thin-sliced onion; I ended up eating most of this. ACL nibbled, but otherwise concentrated on her chizbif.

The salad:

I wish I had thought to check the focus before taking the following picture of the golubsty, a dish I really enjoyed. The lack of focus makes this dish look like a horrifying bowl of puke, but it's actually quite tasty, thanks mainly to the meat. That red thing is a meat-stuffed tomato.

Below, the star of the show: I think ACL and I both agreed that this was the best dish—the chizbif, i.e., grilled or fried lamb atop french fries. Every bite of the lamb made me want to wrap it in a salty, buttery pita, pile on some feta, tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki, and have myself a gyro. It was great lamb; ACL kept feeding it to me. In Greece, gyros are often served with french fries as part of the stuffing inside the pita. The Uzbek dish gave off a very strong gyro vibe, but at the same time, I didn't feel that anything was missing from the dish, if you know what I mean. The chizbif evoked something, but was also its own thing.

Finally, below, a shot of the dry-but-tasty bread.

I was stuffed by the end of that meal. Somehow, skinny ACL and fat Kevin both managed to plow through it all. I was so stuffed, alas, that my stomach started screaming, and I had to cancel my plan to go back to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to cadge some crêpes from the crêpe guy. Instead, ACL and I walked to the nearby subway station and parted ways when I reached the restroom. It was a sad and silly way to part company, but biology is insistent, and my coiled, writhing guts can be more demanding than any spoiled girlfriend.

So on October 3, I have to go back to the hanbok store to pick up my clothing. I had started off wanting to obtain a rental hanbok, but there weren't any in my size, and all rentals would have involved tailoring, which would have been expensive, anyway. Luckily, the place ACL found was cheaper, by far, than the first place we'd hit, and I'm happy with the price I paid. I had prepared myself to go as high as a million won for a hanbok; I'm glad it didn't come to that.


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