Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shark Tale

We took some friends who had helped out with the wedding to a Chinese restaurant, called Shark House. Unsurprisingly, they specialised in shark dishes, but the reason we took them was that despite being somewhat on the expensive side, they'd served us excellent food on the two previous occasions we'd been there.

The first time we went Korean Parents ordered what we thought was a very nice chicken dish in a sweet-and-sour style sauce, but the second time we went we ordered what we believed to be the same dish, only to end up with something different. This time, when the waitress came to our table, considerable discussions were entered into in order to ensure the correct dish was ordered, at the end of which she convinced us that we ought to order a particular dish, even though we didn't recognise the name.

When the dish turned up, it wasn't what we'd had the first time. I think we would have left it at that, but our friends seemed to be in a particularly militant mood and yet more discussion ensued as to what was to be done about this. While the discussions remained perfectly civil, if a little awkward, at some point the manager came over and made the executive decision that our dish should be replaced with something which wasn't as spicy as what had originally arrived.

The replacement was a sharks'-fin dish... which somewhat embarrassingly we realised was in fact the dish we'd eaten on our first visit to the restaurant. So, not chicken at all then. But I have to say, that even knowing what it was this time, I still thought it tasted like chicken - or at least - more like chicken than some of the mystery-meat we've been served which has been alleged to be chicken.

There was another lesson in this beyond being able to tell the different between chicken and sharks' fin, and that was the etiquette of restaurants in Korea. Apparently it's understood here that if there is an accepted problem with the dish you've ordered in an expensive restaurant the restaurant will replace it free of charge, usually leaving the original dish with the customers if there were no objections otherwise. For the purposes of definition, a sufficiently expensive dish is deemed to be 10,000 won - about £5.50.

At 18,000 won, our order was well above this limit, but the restaurant staff were reluctant to give any ground at first and this wound-up the rest of my party considerably. When a new dish was ordered from the kitchen, the original dish was taken away, to some surprise at my table - there had been some hope it would be left. I was rather more ambivalent though - while the waitress did convince us to order something we didn't think was correct - we clearly didn't know what we were trying to order either, and I can't help but think that in the UK there wouldn't have been any sending back of the dish let alone keeping the originally delivered order.

One final footnote. I wasn't sure about the ethicality of sharks' fin when we were in the restaurant, and what I found out afterwards when I looked into it was sufficient to ensure I never eat it again.

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