Magical experiences aren’t always happy

28 Sep

“Magic” is generally used to describe supernatural events.  In a place lacking in genuine Chinese cuisine, Junichiro Tanizaki thought his accidentally discovered Chinese dishes were “magical” due to their appealing to all senses, not just taste.  When food’s primary purpose is to be eaten, it ought to be unusual if one sees and hears something extraordinary; feels something unusually textured; and smells an aroma distinct from food commonly consumed.  While Tanizaki’s experience was clearly positive given his yearning for more Chinese food, I have an experience with “magical” food which is not nearly as glowing, and unfortunately not soon to be forgotten.

This past summer, I was granted the opportunity to study abroad in South Korea, for which I am extremely grateful to the USC East Asia Studies Center.  The variety of food, and sheer quantity of choices throughout Korea – all of which are extremely cheap relative to American prices – could itself qualify as a magical experience like Tanizaki’s.  However, there is one meal I do not miss, but cannot forget.  While visiting a village on Jeju Island, I was confronted by a large pot of boiling pillbugs.

Bugs are actually eaten globally, and experts say they actually quite nutritious.  However, as bugs are not a part of my diet, it should come as no surprise that this meal “magically” took over my senses.  I saw and heard murky, brown liquid boiling, and felt sickened.  I smelled something similar to mud, and wanted to hold my nose.  Without touching anything, I imagined feeling bugs crawling inside my stomach.  I stuck a toothpick through one, and cannot remember if I heard crunchy food or squishy food.  I am sure half the senses I remember feeling that day were actually imagined and not real.  Regardless, I, like the poor hunters from “The Restaurant of Many Orders”, can remember experiencing something unnatural.

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