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What Takes a Meal from Good to Great? Fermented Korean Oysters

Alex Van Buren

Certain touches take a restaurant meal from good to great. This week, five food-world people share their most memorable tales.

What Takes a Meal from Good to Great?  Fermented Korean Oysters

Photo credit: StockFood. Illustration credit: Jennifer Fox

Married chef duo Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi co-own two highly acclaimed Seattle restaurants—Joule and Revel—and have a third on the way. Their first trip together after they were married was to Korea, to meet Yang’s family. At one incredible (and incredibly aromatic) meal, she couldn’t have been prouder of her new husband.

We went to Jeju Island in Korea. We were looking for a different restaurant, which was very well-known for its black pig barbecue (which is very famous in that area). It was our first time there, and we sort of got lost, and we found this other place, this tiny little place on a dirt road in the countryside. 

We were the only ones there, and then this old grandma lady came out. I think she was the only one working. There were only a couple things on the menu. She had clam noodles. We could see what she was doing in the kitchen. She had this block of dough, she had this pot of water (which kind of sat next to us), and this bowl of clams, and noodles she just pulled with her hands.

It was this little, small, dingy place where we didn’t know what to expect, and she became really interested in the fact that Seif was American and loving everything. She started bringing all sorts of different things to our table, really spicy fermented fish, and was super amused that Seif liked it. She brought back this fermented oyster that was really spicy and briny. Seif put the whole thing in his mouth, gave her a thumbs-up [and she loved that]. 

It was something really interesting to see. We ended up eating way more than we ever thought we would eat. As we progressed she was bringing more stinky stuff, she brought us a lot of seafood stuff, like fish liver that was spicy, with garlic

She was having fun with us. “I can’t believe these Americans are eating all this stuff.” Being open to a different flavor and trying everything made her so happy. The restaurateur being so happy, being so happy by what you’re eating

We thought, “That’s why we’re doing this, that’s why we’re in this business.”