Friday, June 11, 2010

Hot Diggety ... Dog Diggety...


Anyone who spends some time with me in a city knows that I love street food! Roasted chestnuts in Rome, pretzels with mustard in Philadelphia, choclo (a kind of big kerneled corn you eat with cheese) in Cusco, and here in Korea I found a hot dog vendor! New York hot dogs, they ain't!

Now, I know that sometimes I'm taking my life into my hands - dreadful food poisoning in Peru comes to mind - but it is so worth it. Not only do you usually get a pretty decent and inexpensive dinner, but you also get to support a small business. I like the honest exchange of money for a service. I like the simplicity of it. I like knowing that my money is helping Joe Q. Public and his family rather than some bureaucrat who doesn't know people from numbers. Yeah, people will have shoes because I chose chestnuts or pretzels, choclo or hot dogs for my dinner.

Tonight a couple got into the elevator, munching down on their dogs. Please understand. This is not socially acceptable behavior. People don't move about eating (or drinking coffee) here. It is against the norms. Must be some slamming good dogs, I'm thinking, and then I realize HEY, that's the place near MY place. Every day I pass Sso Ja Hot Dog stand. I first noticed it because the sign was made by my art teacher, and I recognize her style. Heck, why not?

Dropping my books and research papers off, grabbing my wallet and my outdoor shoes, I scoot on down to the little red outdoor hut and take a gander. I pass on the bulgogi barbecue (beef barbecue) and choose instead the SSo Ja Dog, a delight to eat as much as it is a delight to watch being made. He's the guy on the left, his friend is the guy on the right he tells me of the picture. His black spiky hair and 1940's type glasses so popular with the younger set here frame his smiling face as he cooks the dogs (sausage actually), cutting it into four pieces at a slant. The smell of the grilled meat fills my little corner of the concrete plaza, and I hear the sounds of laughter and people hawking their wares. He takes absolute care and makes precise cuts to the meat with special scissors after placing it in a steamed bun. The bamboo mats used for rolling sushi are the steamer, and the bun is soft, but not gooey. A clump or two or three of cabbage and onions beside the steaming sausage, and then the sauces. He flips the ketchup and mustard bottles like a bartender with a bottle of Cuervo and dances the red and yellow in wavy lines, perfectly proportioned to the very edge. I ask for hot sauce, and he says, no ... for Koreans. I tell him I live in Korea, I tell him about the goshiwon and the university and pepper my speech with enough Korean that I pass his meager test, and hot sauce flits down the inside of the warm, not gooey bun.

Wrapped in paper, he hands it to me with a smile and a flourish, and tells me to come back another time. In the sanctuary of my room, four floors up, I bite into possibly the best sausage sandwich I've ever had. It was hot, I will tell you. Yep. It was hot, and it was spicy, and it burnt my tongue. And I loved it.

He had asked if I wanted two or one. I decided one since maybe I wouldn't like it. Smarter that way, you know. Now, I wish I'd asked for two but don't have the gumption to run back down and ask for another. I bite into an apple from my fridge, and the cold takes away the heat in my mouth. And I ponder. How often can I go for a sausage sandwich without being obnoxious? I mean seriously - two fifty. That's how much a Korean hot dog costs on the street. Five bucks for two. All you have to do is give your money to the nice man with the spiky hair, and you have a party in your mouth! Next time I'm taking the five bucks with me. Life should always be so rocking!
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Photo from internet. I gotta get a camera.

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