There are a few things in life I cannot say no to. Things like free samples, good wine, good cheese, basically most foods – one being: all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ.
I’ve been really good lately. For those who don’t know, back in April I finally started “working out”. I go on my at-home spin bike at least 4 times a week for 30 minutes. It’s a little something, it’s actually one of the only times I get to catch up on a show since it’s set right in front of the television. I replaced my breakfasts with smoothies.. and some times I eat cereal to go along with it because, well, HUNGER.. and then I don’t do too much red meat, at least not for dinner.. well, sparingly. Okay so it’s not a real diet but we do what works for us without driving ourselves mad and thinking “what am I doing with my life!?”
That being said. A few weeks ago we met up with some friends to try this place called MANNA BBQ in San Marcos, CA. They’re known for all-you-can-eat and it’s one of those places where you cook things yourself, while staff is nearby to assist you. Okay so first of all, I love Korean BBQ. I love those thin little meat strips that have been soaking in some sort of soy-sauce concoction and within minutes on a grill it’s perfect and ready to eat. I love that smokey smell that gets stuck in your hair and on your clothes .. I’m getting hungry for it just thinking about this stuff. It’s one of my favorite dishes. Usually at these restaurants they will set out all these side plates to pair with whatever meat you order. Once we sat down we were greeted with a variety of side options! They call this: banchan (pronounced “bon-chon”) is the term for Korean side dishes
- Kimchi – this is an essential condiment in Korean dining, these are vegetables fermented for months in vinegar, red chili peppers and salt. Kimchi not only goes with every Korean meal, but serves as a foundation for soups, and gives off a spicy and sour flavor. The most well-known variety is baechu kimchi, which is made from napa cabbage. It’s also pretty good to eat alone, stright cold from the fridge, but don’t eat too much on an empty stomach. Your butt hole will thank me for this advice.
- Jeon – pancake-like dishes that mix poultry, seafood, sliced meats or vegetables with flour batter or coated with egg batter then deep-fried in oil. The crunchiness of the pancake contrasts with the chewiness of the added ingredient to the satisfaction of the diner. Don’t be fooled with this… they bring this out to fill you up!
- Oi Sobaegi – cucumbers stuffed with a paste made from Korean red pepper, scallion, ginger and garlic. Diners can expect a light, cooling crunch, followed by a burst of spice and tickling series of bubbles in the mouth.
- Namul “ vegetables seasoned with sesame oil, vinegar, salt, garlic, green onions, chili peppers and soy sauce. Broccoli is often seasoned in sesame oil and sprinkled with a few sesame seeds when served as banchan.
Those are just several sides that you can expect to see. Most often there will be bean sprouts that have been sauteed (love these just to snack on.. a good crunch to go along with the meat), and some times there’s mini fried fish (I will see this as a side option in towns where there are lots of Filipinos/Asians – in the bay area every single Korean restaurant I went to offered these little yummies.
The menu seemed easy enough. There were four sections and the most expensive section had the prime meat and the cheapest section had just bulgogee and chicken options. A good thing to note (that I wish was mentioned to us prior) is that every person at your party has to pick and order the SAME section. If one person wants the Kobe beef/prime rib/brisket, endless options, they order the S1. But let’s say the person next to you wants just bulgogee … too bad, you have to order the S1 as well. It might sound unfair, but this rule is likely due to people who want to pay less and hope to share the good meat anyways, and I bet they’ve served a lot of people who have done this, so they figured, everyone should order it. Luckily we were all pretty excited about Kobe beef… so that’s that. They bring out so much, you know you are full and you don’t stop.
This is now the point I am trying to make with you all here. With the red meat just a couple times a week and very small portions of it, for me to sit there for almost two hours and down red wine and red meat… well, I just knew with every bite I was in for it. But the flavor was so good I couldn’t stop… plus you wanna get your money’s worth – who else thinks like this? I notice my son is only eating the glass noodles and we are trying to convince him to have more bulgogee… not happening. What did happen is I ate about 1.5 lbs of meat. I knew it was time to stop when my ribs started hurting, but even then I took a few more bites. I felt a tad nauseous but assumed that it might be from the wine, and I continued with several more bites after that. You know you have a problem and a love for good food when your husband has already called it quits and ten minutes later you are still devouring beef slices.
Twenty minutes later… we were at a Baskin Robbins for ice cream. What on earth were we thinking? So I’m having a tough time breathing, we say goodbye to our friends and we head home. I felt faint on the car ride. We got home, I took a quick shower, drank water – it hurt to even drink water! It felt like my throat had a barrier in it and was like NOPE. NOTHING ELSE CAN GO DOWN THIS PIPE NATALIA! I’m telling you guys, by the time I rest my head on my pillow it was hurting to even swallow saliva. I just closed my eyes and said a prayer. I think the prayer went something like:
Dear Lord, thank you for this day and the time we got to spend with friends and with the kids. Now, please let me wake up tomorrow and not die in my sleep from meat trying to escape my throat. Also, please help this stuff leave my body in a way that will allow me to walk the rest of the weekend. I promise to never eat that much bbq ever again if you help me survive this. Amen.
Okay so the following day arrives. A friend of mine asks to do lunch. I was barely able to stomach coffee the next day and then the real hurt came in. Friends, I thought I was going through menopause. I was on Google for 45 minutes that morning just making sure but I had all the symptoms. Can you go through menopause at 30? Is that even possible? Maybe with all the GMO’s and flouride in the water I was starting it? I felt faint, I couldn’t breathe properly, I was having gag-reflexes and it was incredibly HOT. I had to cool myself off by opening the freezer several times. I felt like I was sweating even though sweat didn’t come out…I took another shower that morning – a cold shower… omg a COLD shower people! I lay on the floor naked and thought I was going to start crying a little. My hair was still dripping wet but I was okay with it because it cooled me off. I started thinking about all the places I still wanted to visit in life. Then I got up and convinced myself to snap out of this because you have to have lunch with a friend. I started to dress up and then began smelling my clothes because all I could smell was MEAT. I threw my first outfit off in a hurry and grabbed another. It still smelled like meat! I threw water across my face and then I had that moment where you look at yourself in the mirror and realize.. IT’S YOU. It’s not the clothes. YOU. Yes YOU, NATALIA, SMELL LIKE MEAT. Friends! The smell was coming out of my pores. My belly still looked like I was 4 months pregnant. I should have canceled lunch but went anyways. I drove with the AC on and the windows down. I didn’t care if my bangs were ruined by the time I parked. Met with my friend. Was THAT person who ordered a salad and a juice. Half way through the lunch I could barely concentrate on our conversation because I kept having gag-reflexes wanting to throw up. I told her about what I ate the night before and she said, “I think you have the meat sweats… all that meat you ate will take your body 4 days to process.”
It exists. I am here to tell you as living proof, this condition exists and it is terrifying. My entire weekend was ruined. That dinner was on a Friday night and I am not kidding you, I only started feeling better and my breathing got back to normal by Tuesday evening. Why am I sharing this story with you? What is the moral? I don’t know exactly. Perhaps: just because it’s in front of you doesn’t mean you should eat it? Just because there’s extra doesn’t mean you should partake? Just because it’s “free” doesn’t mean you should keep going? Over-indulgence at it’s finest. I can’t waste good red wine and I can’t waste good red meat. These are consequences I will have to face in life unless I get my act together. Has anyone else experienced something similar? Here are some snaps from that night at the dinner.. none from the weekend of terror I experienced, those would not be G-Rated anyways. 😉
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Photos by: Jeffery and Natalia Cruz