Dear Inquisitive Stranger,
Have you ever broken the seal?
Did you try something new and found there was no looking back? There are a few ways we can approach this. Frequent bathroom trips, breaking the ice with the new cutie in accounts, getting the ball rolling on that dovecote building project, trying a new genre at the cinema, inaugurating the bathroom shelves you had been meaning to put up for 8 months? Whatever the programme, trying something new is an opportunity. An opportunity to ace it or flange it. You feel you would be good enough to go golf pro…..should you ever try it. Alternatively, it could go spectacularly wrong and you wonder why you put yourself out there on the acrobat’s ledge in the first place.
With such polarised outcomes, what’s the point?
Simple. Do you want to be an old-timer flicking through reruns of ‘Quantum Leap’ while reflecting how your long life could have been different if you had just tried jumping off that bridge with an elastic band attached to your ankles? Personally, I will never live with that regret, however I may look back and wonder why I never wore a ballgown to work.
Solution: just do it.
Nike has a point. Quit procrastinating and get on with it before you change your mind. It could go horribly wrong but you’ll never know and it’s that unknown quantity that is the problem.
In recent times, I tried something new in my diet. For several years I have been a meat-free zone. I started going off the idea of consuming it at the age of 8 when, chowing down on a mighty ham roll, I was suddenly repulsed by the thought of eating a carcass. I put down the bread coffin and didn’t pick pork up again for many years. As time went by I started to give other meat products the brush off, not even to be seduced by the infamous player – bacon. Eventually I was a fully fledged pescatarian which is a community governed by one rule – if it had eyelashes, it’s not getting passed gnashers. Fish in, cows out. Somehow an aquatic corpse didn’t count.
Dad, in denial that somebody in the household wouldn’t eat his trademark pie, insisted there must be a loophole. “But you still eat chickens though?” “No, Pops, they have little rubbery eyelashes. Google it.” Actually this was in the days before Google so I hunted through back-issues of the National Geographic in search of a close-up chicken head shot. Turns out they don’t make great cover models so my search was a wild chicken chase.
For many years, I lived by the ‘live fast, meat none’ mantra. Then I accepted a job in Seoul and realised I would be doing the Korean cuisine a disservice by not trying its famous meat dishes. I didn’t want to be that pesky pescetarian who refused to dine out. Nobody wants that person in their party when picking a restaurant. So slowly I started to dine on swine and gradually no longer had grief with beef.
But not chickens.
Those guys I just can’t get down with. If one pecked a cluck-by right now, I’d happily give him a fist bump and we’d both be on our way. Cook him at 180˚C until golden brown and stick him on my plate and I find his company less appealing. My only explanation is that I find their etiquette somewhat objectionable. Pecking around in your own poo is the height of bad manners where I come from. That said, I did once sample chicken’s feet at a restaurant. After 5 years living in Hong Kong, my Chinese friend said that I couldn’t exit the country without trying this national dish. In the spirit of breaking the seal and trying something new, I knew I couldn’t escape this showdown. The results were not pretty. Chicken feet, dear Stranger, may appear supple and tough but once cooked the texture becomes mushy and slimy. By all means, I do encourage you to try them.
Admittedly this was not my only meat encounter during my Hong Kong sojourn. The big seal breaker was after dragon boat race celebrations when I staggered from my home in desperate need of carbohydrates, which every Brit knows is the cure for post-alcohol evils. Through bloodshot eyes I could make out the bleary golden arches of the doctor’s surgery where I was to be administered my medicine. I scoffed that Big Mac down in 2 bites. My hangover didn’t stand a chance and from that point on McDonald’s was my covert hangover cure. If nobody saw me eat there then it didn’t actually happen.
So this was my dirty little secret for a while, until I came to Seoul, where I broke the seal with one swift cleft of the butcher’s knife. The secret was out when my buddy introduced me to grilled sticky rice beef. We were about to chow down when he produced his video camera and I knew the game was up. The recording that followed captures the moment the seal officially broke. The look was evident in my eyes, I had tasted blood and was hungry for more.
More lasted for about 6 weeks when my 30-years-a-pesco body decided it had had taken enough abuse. There had been no note, no warning, no permission asked. As a child, I had cavalierly announced I was quitting meat with no by-your-leave from my stomach and now it was expected to process the meat I was dumping in it as if making up for The Lost Years. It was not enjoying processing the protein quota backdated 20 years. Meat was beginning to lose it’s appeal again.
So today I am listening to my stomach’s request for something a bit more veggie and a bit less meaty. I am enjoying a green fiesta at the Slunch Factory in Sangsu-dong where the menu boasts many vegetarian and vegan dishes. It was hard to choose but I settled upon the eggplant and spinach spaghetti to appease my stomach. The pasta is plentiful and has a hidden peppery kick plus the bonus carb-on-carb lightly toasted bread is welcome to mop up the watery sauce. The peace offering has been accepted.
From the exterior, Slunch Factory looks like a detached seaside house and stepping inside feels like a living room complete with conservatory area that could double as an art studio. Greeted at the door by a dolphin maitre’d, smoothly swimming through the air, who beckons you into a snug yet roomy, warm yet airy dining room. Elevated windows and ceiling generate plenty of head space and the open kitchen is great if chef gawking is your thing. I feel like I have stepped into the home of an eccentric, aging artist whose appreciation of all things wood is evident in the hotpotch of timber tables, chairs and even cutlery.
It’s Sunday and the atmosphere is buzzy with friends and lovers. Slunch Factory doubles as a terrific Friday night date venue, just off the beaten track enough to look cool to the person you are impressing or for that lazy Sunday lunch. Vegetate with your vegetables then pour a glass of wine before pouring over the bookshelf of art manuals.
Art seeps into in walls which are cluttered with images that can be enjoyed, purchased or watched (an unidentified old black and white film is playing, I suspect French from the actor’s pained expressions). Even the patrons, inspired by the art vibe have busted out sketch pads and are happily chatting and sketching. There is a small gallery room displaying winking skeleton vases, torso shaped diffusers and hand sculpture jewellery holders which can be purchased for your home. I like the illustration by local artist Mollyy Park depicting a date scene between an uptown girl who is fascinated by her date’s fork tongue. It is not the usual style of art that catches my eye but I like the narrative so decide to buy it as, after all, today is about trying something new.
I encourage you to do the same and take the initiative to break the seal! Tick an item or three from your life ‘to do’ list and feel victorious. Don’t give up your ideals but do add something new to your repertoire. Elevate that ‘thing’ from “yeah, one day I’ll bungee” to “Sorry boss, can’t talk, ….got to call A. J. Hackett to book my jump”. You may discover you did not enjoy the enterprise but at least you will know and you owe it to the geriatric version of you to find out.
Meanwhile it is Monday tomorrow, so if you need me for the rest of the afternoon, I shall be getting my ball gown out of mothballs ready for work.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Slunch Factory – vegetarian good times (just not if you are a vegetable)
38 Wausan-ro 3-gil, Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Sangsu Station, line 6, exit 4
Monday – Sunday 11:00 – 01:00
달나라 식당 – sticky rice beef heaven
42 Dongmak-ro 19-gil, Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Sangsu station, line 6, exit 2
Monday – Friday 11:30 – 21:00
The moment my meat damn broke
Hello! This letter was left in the charge of a gang of torso vases for a stranger to find in ‘Slunch Factory’.
If you are that stranger, or perhaps a visitor to this blog, please get in touch with your meat-eating stories or anything that titillates your plate.
In good taste,