Be forewarned, what follows are less delicate aspects of Korean cuisine.
In Mexico, people would often express surprise when I sat down to eat barbecued goat or a spicy stew of innards. I would shrug and merely say, “But I’m not really American, I grew up in Korea,” and immediately, the questioners would nod understandingly. I wish I could say my willingness to eat all kinds of random things comes from great bravery and open-mindedness, but it’s because I grew up never really knowing what I was eating.
I love tripe. I love it cooked in tomato sauce at Babbo, I love it in meaty Korean soups, I love it in a warm Spanish stew. But growing up, I thought it was lamb. The word in Korean for tripe is 양 or yang, which happens to be the same word for lamb. Somewhere in my little kid head, I thought the curly fur of the lamb somehow got transferred to its meat, resulting in the curly, rough surface of the tripe.
I had no such excuse for not knowing what 족발, jokbal is. After all, it literally means “pig foot.” But I somehow never put “pig” and “foot” together, probably because I was so distracted by how much I loved the contrast between the simple boiled pork meat, the extremely chewy fat, and the salty, shrimpy sauce in which it’s traditionally dipped. It is really, really chewy, as Koreans just love chewy things.
Don’t knock it till you try it.
순대, soondae, I do take credit for simply being brave even if no one ever told me it was blood sausage, because only an exceptional kid, or perhaps a supremely uncurious one, would eat something so dark and strange. I have a vague memory of some kid telling me that the casing was intestine, but I thought she was just trying to scare me. The filling is mainly rice, and blood of course, though many places will also add chopped up Korean glass noodles. Actually, the noodles scared me more; I thought they might be worms. I figured out it must be blood sausage only a few years ago, when I learned about the existence of blood sausage in other cultures. (That’s liver on the left—one thing I’ve never liked.)
I am proud of my Korean heritage for many reasons, but particularly thankful that when organ meats became cool, I was ready.