Like most hagwons with kindergarten programs, we get free lunch at my school. Initially, it seemed like a major – and money-saving - perk, but has became a source of much irritation to both me and my co-workers. Last year, I was hardly adventurous with Korean food, and I would not have expected to find much to like about eating Korean food every day. But after a somewhat successful New Year's Resolution, this year has included a much wider range of Korean dishes – and a lot less boredom with my diet.
Yet, free lunch is still a problem. The soups almost always taste like dishwater and they serve fish with all the bones and fins and eyes. I know most Koreans aren't vegetarian – and I decided early on that I would continue to eat the lunch when I stopped eating meat – but this food is seriously poor quality. And they serve the same stuff to the kids. Yuck.
So what's a girl to do? Oh, don't worry, because you can go eat at Delicious Baby. I have no idea what this restaurant is actually called, but it's around the corner from my school and I will take you if you're in the neighborhood. It's teeny tiny and is pretty much a Health and Safety Inspector's nightmare, but don't let that put you off. The menu is standard kimbap shop fayre, but they make everything fresh (including the dongkass!) And they don't have any problem making changes to suit your weird egg-pickiness or meatlessness. The mom does all the cooking – and has a sixth sense about how you like your food - while her husband makes the kimbaps. That's right: a Man Making Kimbap. Delicious kimbap. I suspect he mixes happy drugs in with the rice.
Then there are the two older sons, who handle the delivery/clean-up stuff. The older one is your classic respectful young Korean guy – he once bowed to me from his scooter - and I've yet to see the younger one without a smile. No matter how much I mangle my Korean when ordering, or how many fussy requests I make, that kid is always smiling and making sure the message gets to his mom. Then, of course, there's the baby. He's only 18 months old (pretty sure he was a surprise) and looks like a tiny grandpa. His job is wandering around amongst all the food and fire and sharp objects. When he's tired, he sleeps on one of the benches or gets strapped to his mom or dad's back. (This does not, of course, prevent the dad from making deliveries on the scooter...safety first!)
When we first started going, he did what all Korean babies do when faced with foreigners: slack-jawed gaping. The whole family would try to get him to talk, but he just kept on staring. Gradually he figured out other ways to get our attention, like bouncing up and down, banging spoons, or waving rice around. Then one day he just started coming over to see us, and today he had a very entertaining time with my bike helmet. At first, he looked like he stepped on it by accident, but then it became clear that putting his feet in the helmet was the game. After I put it on his head he walked over to his parents with the helmet on backwards, then hanging off his face, before he figured out a way that he could wear it and see at the same time.
It might seem ridiculous to write so much about one little restaurant and the family that runs it, but you don't know how Delicious that Baby's food is. And there's nothing like good food for making you feel at home in a faraway land.