Bondaegi

JY dared me ‘well, if you wish, you could try it, trust me, the taste is good’. But I was not so sure anymore. Bondaegi, up close and personal smelled awful.

I have been to Seoul a few times in the 90’s. Seoul is a great city, real big, with millions of people teeming about, hustling & bustling like many other mega cities around the world. A spanking clean & efficient metro that zipped you around, and taxis that ran on natural gas caught your attention…

Shopping was a national pastime I think, there were many areas kept aside for this purpose, Itaewon – mostly frequented by tourists and a place where I purchased my first leather jacket (subject of a Financial express article I wrote years ago) and many other places like Insadong and Namdaemun.

Our agent and friend JY always escorted us around, he would carefully steer us away from certain places. It took some heavy persuasion from us for him - albeit sheepishly, talk about the ‘Boshin tang’ issue. This was just after the Seoul Olympics, so a lot of those nefarious places had been closed and the city cleansed. Yeah, I know many of you are wondering about ‘Boshin tang’, that is the famous Korean dog stew.


For those of you who didn’t know, Bow bow tang or ‘Boshin tang’ is supposed to make you virile and your girl friend happy.


But what surprised me were some of Korea’s similarities with India, there were even people selling groundnuts in those paper cones made from old newspapers, around street corners. It had been a long time since I ate roasted groundnuts, reminded me of the Kadala vandi roaming Kerala’s inside streets…


Remember the emancipated ‘lungi’ clad guy pushing a cart loaded with a pumping stove and old newspapers, usually near cinema theatres and beaches? He would set shop, put stone wedges under the tyres to immobilise it, light his stove after a few vigorous pumps. Once it is nicely going, blue flame and all, he puts his thin iron wok over it and tips some sand into it. I used to wonder, how old is that sand? Minutes later, it was hot like hell and he would pop in fresh seeded groundnuts…It used to smell great and we hoped as we passed it that an elder would buy us a few cones. From ten paisa a cone, the price has inflated to Rs1/- a cone in most places!! Also, over the years the cones became smaller, the number of nuts in a cone went from the 50’s to 10’s…Cone making became a highly skilled task, to finish looking big outside, but containing just a few nuts inside…Then came the time when our man started to add items to the trolley, pickles, fried stuff…but the staple from the vandi was nuts.

Hey, what is this; I am digressing from Seoul streets and mumbling something else…

So well, I saw a nut vendor from afar in Namdaemum. I was asking JY if we should buy some groundnuts for old times sake. He gave me an incredulous look and asked ‘Do you have any idea what that old lady is selling’? I was so sure it was groundnuts and I said so, he asked me to move on and then explained. ‘My friend, those are fried or pickled silkworm larvae. It is a delicacy here, but maybe not for you’…and its name? Bon Dae Gi…then he went on, ‘Trust me the taste is good’…Well, I never tried the stuff.

So that is Bondaegi for you all. Eat it if you dare. Older Koreans will vouch for the taste; younger ones don’t eat it anymore!!!

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