Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bad Hair Day

So Christmas Day found us in the Nampodong district again, and we went to a pasta restaurant, but I can't say which one because as I understand it the law in Korea is very much tilted towards businesses rather than individuals, especially where foreigners are concerned, which means that if I mentioned their name in the context of relating what happened next, I might find myself getting sued... ironically.

The ambience inside Unnamed Pasta Restaurant was nice and even if the dishes were a little expensive the meal promised to be a pleasant one and a perfect end to Christmas Day. It was busy, but we didn't have to wait long for a table. My wife ordered pasta but I opted for pizza as most of the pasta dishes seemed to be very hot and I wasn't in the mood to test my stomach's levels of tolerance. Her dish arrived but there seemed little hope for mine after we overheard a waiter telling another customer offering excuses to another customer nearby who was complaining. Predictably then, my wife had finished her meal by the time mine arrived, and while she registered her unhappiness about the situation with the waiter, the best he could offer in his employer's defence was that it was Christmas and it was busy. As this was now the second complaint which had emerged from our corner of the restaurant, an us-versus-them spirit of camaraderie was showing its first dangerous signs of emerging - a voice drifted up from the next table as he left, 'What does Christmas have to do with not cooking the pizzas quickly enough?' But he was already well into beating a hasty retreat in the direction of the kitchen.

The pasta was hot and a little too overcooked, the garlic cheese pizza (with zero sauce) was better but they evidently couldn't help but bake chillies into it so it was also quite hot. But that wasn't the only surprise ingredient. Waiter, there's a hair in my pizza. And obviously it's not mine, because it's silky black, which my hair isn't, and in any case it appears to be baked into the pizza between the cheese and the base in the area that would normally be occupied by the sauce, if this weren't Korea.

We attracted the attention of a passing waitress but she didn't know what to make of it, and shortly afterwards our waiter arrived. He didn't look too sure either, but by now my wife was asking what they were going to do about it. We didn't want the pizza replaced - I'd eaten most of it and it wasn't really that nice even without the hair, and so what followed was one of those unfortunate three-way conversations that my wife has to put up with in Korea. Her negotiating with the waiter, and me telling her what the protocol would be back home for dealing with this situation - which I thought in this case largely involved refusing to pay for the pizza, paying the rest of the bill and walking out immediately - and that's only if the restaurant didn't do the right thing by offering to do the same first or more. Now I didn't know what Korean protocol was for such situations, but given all my experiences here, I rather thought it might sometimes involve the restaurant descending into something akin to a scene from a Jackie Chan movie.

The manager came over and in a voice so hushed and mumbled it resembled a Dick Cheney apology, he offered us free wine or a free pizza to go. My wife chose the latter - if I'd have spoken Korean I wouldn't have accepted anything more from them - I just wanted out. But in retrospect, I can't have been completely angry because even though I'd quickly worked out the Korean for "there's a black hair in my pizza and obviously it isn't mine" to share with our neighbours, I'd elected not to share our experience with them, even though they were clearly curious. So there was a another more audible apology from the manager as we paid, presumably because it was out of the earshot of the comrades we were leaving behind, and an assurance that this really never happens but that, you know 'it is Christmas'. Ah, perhaps it was meant as a gift then.

There's a second part to this Christmas story. The one where my wife, consumed with guilt over the question of whether she'd gone too far or not far enough, polled her mother and friends to gauge what the proper reaction should have been. And the result surprised me, because the answer demonstrated some sympathy with the restaurant. 'Well, these things happen' was a common response. In fact, our friend who's antagonism towards the retail industry have sunk to such lows that she's attempted to stage re-enactments of the Cold War in Paris Baguette, told us that it often happens in really cheap places and because this restaurant wasn't cheap at least the hair was probably clean... In other words, the conclusion was that we got a good result with our free pizza. Personally, I think I'm going to be a little wary of eating out for a while.

We did eventually eat our free sweetcorn pizza. A combination of a lack of food, an unwillingness to go out, and hunger got the better of any fears I had that the cook might have spat on it out of spite. I'm told that's almost unthinkable here, unlike where I come from. But it wasn't nice - once again there was absolutely no sauce at all and not even a hint that the thin dough and cheese had ever even seen anything resembling a tomato, so really, it's just slightly elaborate cheese-on-toast as far as I'm concerned.

Korean tags: 식사, 레스토랑, 피자, 머리, 성탄절

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hihi. i know its a LOT late.. and u probably have found good pizza restaurants.. but there is a quite new pasta restaurant around kyungsung univ.. it's called la lieto.. and the pasta is really good, different from the other over milking korean-pasta.. :P the best italian food i came so far in korea :)

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