Last Sunday was the day that mom and I spent almost entire day at Lotte Department Store in Daejeon, Korea. I never realized but it is physically painful to spend hours in an enclosed space that is crowded with Sunday shoppers. At least we ended the day watching a great movie called 국제시장 (Ode to My Father). But before we get happy with our eyes we needed to get happier bellies. Mom led me to the basement level of the mall where all the goodies for foodies are stored.
Because I am currently trying to stay on a no-carb, no-meat, no-alcohol diet (not just because of weight loss but mainly because of the eczema that has made unwanted comeback on my hands) mom suggested that we go for Korean-style chirashi donburi. A bowl of rice topped with fresh vegetables and raw fish is always on top of my menu.
The chairs surrounding a rotating sushi table were all occupied for lunch time. There was even a line of people waiting. I could immediately realize that Maru is the most popular eatery of the underground floor.
Mom ordered typical donburi with assorted sashimi. She added a splash of spicy gochujang (chili sauce) on top and mix it all up with her chopsticks. On the other hand, I usually go for anything that seems new and unique to me. Meonggae (멍게: sea squirt) bibimbab sounded like a new continent that must be explored. The dish is not rare in Korea but living in Canada for most of my last decade I have never seen a sea squirt donburi before. The chef suggested that I should not add any spicy sauce but try to enjoy the flavor of sea squirt by itself. So I did — no sauce added but simply mixed up the rice, veggies and slimy stuff that used to live inside a sea squirt.
The result? I consider myself an adventurous foodie and this was the kind that I would call a success. The combination of crunchy vegetables and smooth, slimy sea squirt was a great contrast. But what caught me more was the taste itself. I told my mother that I can almost “smell the sea”. It was hard to explain in words but really all I can say is that I have tasted the sea through a bowl of topped rice. From this day on chirashi dons topped with ordinary raw fish would bore me as I have been enlightened with sea squirt’s charm.