When Jonathan Kauffman, Seattle Weekly's former food guru, recommended a restaurant, I always went without hesitation. His reviews resonated with me, as we have similar food preferences.
This tang (top left) is far from vanilla
But when a recent shopping trip to H Mart in Lynnwood enabled a visit to Original Sul Lung Tang, I had a rare episode of betrayal. Kauffman had been bowled over by the namesake dish (#1 on the menu, often spelled seolleongtang), raving about the blandness of the ox-bone broth. I intended to order the same, but my eyes immediately wandered down the menu where, persuaded by the colorful pictures and distracted by the descriptions, I found myself instead tempted by a spicy hot number. (This turned out to be #5: hae jang gook.)Still, the kind server insisted on bringing me a small bowl of the sul lung tang broth to sample.
First came a collection of banchan, bright and happy, followed by my bowl of hae jang gook. When I saw the rich red broth, I immediately started salivating, and felt confident I had made the right choice. The server soon returned with the promised sample of sul lung tang broth--a milky white pool in a small white bowl. If the notion of food porn has turned restaurant dishes into objects of erotic desire, this one vaguely screamed vanilla sex. I pushed it aside (it barely made it into the pictured photo, where it's top left), and dove into the hae jang gook, enjoying the intestines, the vegetables, and of course the spicy flavor.
But with the ghost of Kauffman haunting me, I couldn't completely ignore the sul lung tang, so I eventually took a spoonful to my mouth. Bland was truly the best word for the broth, yet somehow it was intriguing. The server had warned that it's completely unseasoned, and had dropped off a jar of coarse sea salt. I slowly stirred some in (along with a touch of black pepper), then took another sip. And another. And another.
This was a come-to-mama moment. Maybe it was the milky color of the soup, produced by more than 24 hours of cooking down the bones (and, apparently, beef brisket, along with a mysterious "other part" mentioned on the menu), but I felt like I was being breast-fed, in a meaty sort of way. I can only imagine the full dish as intended to serve, suckling the soup while sucking down the noodles that come with it. I'd order the "Special" upgrade (#2 on the menu) which adds tripe and tongue, indulging in the combined carnality and comfort of the experience.
Sex is physical. While it can be primal, it can also be about tender touch--about being held and nurtured.
This sul lung tang held me and nurtured me. The white-on-white bowl of broth was a thing of beauty, and compels me to return. Next time I see a hot-and-spicy girl, I'll remember this Plain Jane and her seductive ways.