2012/01/21 | 913 views | | Permalink
When living in a foreign country there comes a point where you will crave the tastes from back home. This urge may come sooner for some, but eventually your mind will wander and begin to imagine all the things that you enjoyed back home. Recently, I came across a blog post about a South African restaurant in Seoul's popular foreign hangout Iteawon, and these thoughts began to flow uncontrollably.
Now, I don't usually do reviews for restaurants as such, but I decided to write about my experiences when myself and a group of my friends ventured out to Iteawon to track down some flavours from home. Tucked away round the back of the busy Iteawon streets (behind the MacDonald's, the Taco Bell, and all the other popular chains that can be found in Korea) we found "Braai Republic". There were no other stores around it to take note of and the streets were surprisingly dark as we stumbled across this little hole in the wall. So uninhabited was this backstreet that I almost reached for my wallet to see it was still there as I eyed the dark and crooked streets with suspicion. Through a makeshift entrance we tentative passed through some flaps and up a small flight of stairs. "Walk up and take the door on your right" the owner said as we tried to hide our scepticism. The voice was familiar, or rather the accent, almost comforting in a bizarre and uncanny sort of way. This was the first sign that I knew that the legitimacy of "Braai Republic" could not be questioned.
The modestly sized restaurant was homey. The décor around the room was a familiar site as rugby mascots and African scenery reminded me of the culture existing thousands of miles away back in South Africa. The giant zebra skin on the wall was a nice touch and my American friends were quick to question its authenticity. I went there with a few Americans, a Canadian, a Scotsman, and a local, to all of which I was excited to share a piece of my own culture with. Not all of them where gun hoe about my choice of dinning for the evening as one of my friends playfully said, "What do they even eat over there, bugs?...oh what the hell!" Oh Americas do make me laugh sometimes but as we began dissecting the menu to make our selection they started getting into it and became rather interested in what was to be served.
We decided to get a variety of dishes so that we could all try a little bit of everything. We order some lamb and potatoes wedges, some ribs, three pieces of boerwors, and another lamb dish that was paired with coleslaw and some mielie pap (corn meal). To drink I managed to get most ordering some South African cider and by the end of the night we had the bar running out of their brandy and cokes. The food was great and the South African chef did a great job bringing South African flavours to this unlikely locale. The mint jelly that came with the lamb was a particular nice touch and the mix of flavours was enough to send my senses racing across the globe to the bottom of Africa. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all that accompanied me that evening enjoyed the experience. This was helped by the owner's friendly, and truly South Africa, sense of hosting and service. Laughs and jokes were made throughout and when the time came for our rather large bill, he threw in a quick remark that softened the threat that it posed to our pockets.
After our meal I spied a range of board games on their shelf under the T.V. and began introducing "30 seconds" to my mates. It's a simply general knowledge game that always goes down well with friends and a few drinks. After about 20 minutes of playing we realised that no less that two tables had picked up the game and were noisy screaming at each other in enjoyment. I smiled and took a moment to reflect on the times I used to play it back home with good friends. My Scottish friend was an instant master at the game and promised to come back for the bars "30 second" tournament league that the owner was planning to start up soon.
After a round of "Springbok" shooters and few more drinks, we ordered some dessert to sweeten the vibe. We had milk tart and an Amarula cheesecake of sorts. They were both delicious and it all went down like a treat. Our game continued but I stepped away for a moment to talk to some other South Africans as well as the owner for a bit. He apologised for their lack of Brandy and assured me that he would be receiving another shipment the next day. The bar also had a range of biltong (cured meat similar, but not the same as, American beef jerky") and some South Africa fruit juices that again triggered memories of all the goodies I would not be able to find on the Korean peninsular.
It was a great night after all was said and done and I will definitely be back in the future. My friends and I had a fantastic night together and I was happy to share a bit of South Africa with them. I wrote this review/story because I think that it is an energising moment when, after living in a different country for a number of years, you get reminded of what home can taste and feel like again. I am sure many of you out there who have travel before know that feeling you get when encountering your own culture within another. It's a strange and comforting feeling to see a piece of your own culture existing outside of itself.
For those of you have had a similar experience with regards to finding a little piece of your own culture in another, please feel free to share that in the comments section below. It doesn't have to be food but maybe even something as small as a culture item or moment you had that triggered good vibrations and memories of home in a foreign land.
-C.J. Wheeler (Chriscjw@gmail.com)
"[HanCinema Korea's Diary] A Taste of Home: African Flavours at "Braai Republic""
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