This is part 4 of a piece I wrote last year called "Dasonii: The people who love" documenting a restaurant I spent a lot of time at in Pittsburgh. Please comment with any questions, or any critiques! Thanks for reading.
The read the rest of the collection, go here: http://www.vingle.net/collections/1132145
Dasonii is a Korean word—most customers accept it at that. But many Korean customers who come to the restaurant asked Jennifer what it is supposed to mean; they don’t understand.
Bryan describes the word to mean “the person you love” in traditional Korean. Traditional Korean is based on Chinese words and characters and has been gradually replaced with pure Korean words as the language modernized over the past 100 years.
The roots of the word Dasonii, still, can be found. Before a natural slurring of syllables occurred to help the term roll off the tongue, dasonii (다소니) would have been closer to dat-o-ni (닷오니). Separating this into two mains pieces gives us a noun and a verb, but neither noun nor verb directly translates to “person” or “love.” The first part of the world, dat (닷), can mean mind as in thoughts, thoughts as in feelings, feelings as in heart, or heart as in soul, depending on the situation. The verb part, o-ni (오니) is a spin-off form of the verb o-da (오다). This variation changes a would-be verb phrase into a noun, and adds on the meaning of support, so o-ni could be said to mean “the coming of support.”
Dasonii as a whole suggests the coming of support for the mind, or thoughts, or feelings, or heart. This word came to mean “the person you love” in traditional Korean. The person you love: one who supports your mind, thoughts, feelings and heart as you, too, support theirs.
When Jeoung and Bryan still haven’t found a location they love a few weeks after closing, Bryan expands the search to locations and spaces they would not originally consider for their restaurant.
Maybe not a restaurant, now, but a market. Or takeout-only. Or catering. Bryan’s list keeps growing; the options seem endless for the future of Dasonii.
Jeoung slowly nods, smiles; “I guess we try something else, something different than restaurant now,” she says.
Even before times got hard at Dasonii, Jeoung wanted to move their business to Oakland and open a shop that would be popular among the college students there. Jeoung wanted to open a make-your-own-Bibimbap stop.
“College kids…they like healthy, right? Healthy food. I think everyone like this, then. Bibimbap so,” she emphasizes her o’s, “sooo healthy.”
Bibimbap is an internationally-known favorite. Although there are many varieties, its signature pieces are rice, vegetables and gochujang. Gochujang—the staple of all Korean cooking—is a red pepper paste that gives a warm, spicy flavor to stir-fry’s, meats and bibimbap.
There are no rules to what goes on bibimbap; Jeoung likes hers simple, with just rice, mung bean sprouts, an egg and gochujang. Jennifer prefers more vegetables, adding in carrots and lettuce, as well as grilled chicken for a protein pick-me-up. Bryan’s bowl looks empty; kimchi, gochujang, and rice make a small pile.
With the culture of Oakland’s “make your own bowl” style restaurants, Jeoung is sure that a stop-and-go Bibimbap takeout restaurant would be a success for her and Bryan. She envisions an open glass counter, with a variety of vegetables, rice and proteins available, all ready to be appealingly arranged to fit the needs of the customer. Once, Jeoung was sure they should do this; but the restaurant was doing well then, and Bryan liked the restaurant.
Now, the restaurant is closing and maybe the Chae’s will open something new.
When they start packing, they start with the dishes. Jeoung begins to unload the red wine glasses from a shelf and into flimsy, cardboard boxes. The glasses, long-speckled with white spots, would not be moving with Dasonii, and instead are given to whomever will accept the strange token in place of the typical mint on their way out of the restaurant.
She moves on to the elaborate sushi boats: “We don’t need this kind. Just too big,” she explains. “I’ll call Chaya.” She runs her hands over the miniature wooden boat replica, made to hold sushi as it journeys to a customer’s feast.
Chaya, a Japanese cuisine restaurant in Squirrel Hill, is run by Jeoung’s Korean friend. “Nice dishes, just no need for them. You understand?” She asks quietly, her voice carrying with a crisp resonance of throaty tears.
“I should know English more; it’s my fault. Too hard. Too many questions because I, you cannot understand. You understand? Customers, too.” Jeoung’s questions to a silent waitress are rhetorical; she sighs as she moves on to the next shelf, pressing her thumb to her tear ducts to stop the tears that threaten to fall.
“Everyone take two bottles of the alcohol. We won’t take with us.”
Bryan, is less interested in the packing process: “I’ll be able to do to-go Kimchi orders. I always wanted to sell to go but couldn’t do it here. But I can do it then. What do you think about karaoke?” He eagerly asks Jennifer as she cleans off the shelves, once covered in bags of rice and gallons of soy sauce.
Bryan stands, weight resting on one arm, as he leans again the sink. A smile graces his lips as he continues to enumerate ideas, changes and what he’ll do next. He tells Alan, the Scottish chef, and Sorry, the Mexican dishwasher, that he will make it much better for them at the new location. Just wait a little bit. Just a little bit.
On their rarely-updated Facebook page, too, “Dasonii Korean Bistro” replies to queries from customers who have heard the news, wondering when they will reopen. “Just please wait a little bit for us. We’ll come back to serve you again.” Bryan types. He keeps looking forward.
“The word, ‘Dasonii’ means ‘the person you love’ in traditional Korean language. For most people around the world, the simplest act of affection is the sharing of food. Serving food to loved ones…that is healthy and scrumptious will hearten relationships.”
To read the entire collection: http://www.vingle.net/collections/1132145