Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More from Korea

I used to think that some of the Korean-adopted Western foods were gross simply because Koreans didn't understand what the hell was going on. Now I realize that Koreans are pretty much saying "okay...that's a good idea, but we'll take it from here and make something that will suit the tastes of Koreans." That doesn't change the fact that I think the pizza here is pretty gross, but at least now I know it's not on account of Koreans simply being insane...they're just looking out for Korea.

These macarons were pretty authentic though. They were truffle and foie gras. I guess my sister and I decided that we might as well splurge on the really weird ones. The truffle one was incredibly truffley. The foie gras was too sweet to really tell what it was like.

Here's some stone pot BibimBap (mixed rice) with a bunch of seafood. Definitely a Korean dish, but it was served at a pseudo Japanese place.

This is skewered and grilled chicken gizzard. One of my favorite parts of the chicken. Also known as the "sand house (chickens eat pebbles/sand to help with digestion)" or in street food terms it can be referred to as the "crap house." On No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, there was that super annoying girl who weaseled her way into a free trip to Korea, THEN DEMONSTRATED THAT SHE KNEW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT KOREA! Good lord that was frustrating. She was like "oh yeah this is the chicken anus or whatever. It's a Korean delicacy." She knew less about Korea than I did, and she didn't know jack about food. Chicken anus is a korean delicacy? Are you kidding? It's street food...and it's eaten because you don't waste anything! It's a bonus that it's delicious. Also the gizzard certainly isn't the anus. How big do you think a chicken anus could possibly be? Koreans all over the world share a common feeling of unity and pride, because for a small country that has been dicked over by pretty much every other country on earth at some point, we've made it pretty far. We're all Koreans and we're all in it together! Not that chick from No Reserations though. She's out.

Red bean porridge. Incredibly traditional stuff from the "second best place in Seoul." It's not just old people who come here though. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Korean people is their respect and adherence to tradition in the midst of incredible modernization. This is a place where you can watch TV on your cell phone...on the subway. Whereas this kind of tech might really only be seen used by the super savvy back in the states, EVERYONE does it here...teens, grandmas, you name it. A large part of Korean tradition and behavior is an intense respect for elders. I'm always amazed when I watched "reality TV" shows here. These shows mostly feature Idols...superstars of the moment doing hilarious stuff for charity. These shows work so well because they're self contained, don't contain any D-list celebrities or non-celebrities vying for attention, and Idols here generally have gone to good high schools/collleges (if they're old enough) and are quite intelligent and funny. I was struck by one episode I saw when one of the most popular women in Korea was farming or something, and she made sure that the older farmer man was fed first before she was. You wouldn't see that shit in the states. Celebs get in trouble here if they do outrageous and idiotic things, deviating from civility is a career killer. In the states, deviating from civility and being a general jackass seems like a requirement to make your career.
I'm not really sure what that elders thing had to with food, so I'll just end it by saying that young Koreans love burgers:

Like this one from Kraze burger.

Or this one with maybe just a tad too much BBQ ranch.

But they also go back to the traditional. Eating in a communal setting is a big deal here. Why? Because we're all in it together! Whoo Korea! It's this spirit that has graced humans with perhaps the world's greatest food:

Koreans may not have invented grilling meat over charcoal, but they certainly make it the most fun. This is samgyeopsal (three layer fat). It's pork belly grilled on charcoal, and you can wrap it in perilla leaves, lettuce, with rice, grilled onions or garlic...however you want. I basically just want to eat this forever. Like...all the time...until my blood turns into mayonnaise and I keel over and die. I'd be pretty happy with that.

More communal eating can be had with a dish simply translated as "One whole chicken."

A massive pot full of broth and a stewed, cut up chicken come to your table and are put over a jet engine. We added some ground chili paste to make it spicy:

And when the chicken was gone we ordered some noodles to throw in. Freaking delicious.
However, I can't help but feel that if one were to eat a whole chicken in Korea, it should be of the deep fried variety:

Korean fried chicken is blowing up in the states too. It's seasoned with something delicious then fried, drained, fried again so the skin is super crisp and delicious. It's not heavily battered so you just get a really crispy skin. You can also get it sauced with some sort of spicy sweet garlicy sauce. Delicious. I only wish I could have tried all of the many locations and unique recipes.

Koreans are also clever, industrious, and ingenious. This is most likely due to the aforementioned fact that the country has been shat on continuously by other countries. Imagine your home state is its own country. Then imagine that all the states around you have constantly tried to invade your state, economically blackmail your state, and wipe all record of your state's history and culture from memory. Despite this, your state has managed to provide the fastest internet on the planet to the highest percentage of it's citizens. Your state is so technologically advanced that the same cell phone that you can use to watch TV on the subway also grants you access to ride that subway (buses too, it tracks your fares, transfers, you can even pay for cabs as well as vending machine items with it). Imagine that your state is so advanced that an iPhone that sets you back $30 with a contract is still a bad deal because it lacks basic features present on any other phone. Imagine your state is so advanced, it has produced this:

The corn dog with the fries attached to it. There's shit going down in Korea that even Neal Stephenson couldn't imagine in Snow Crash.

Interesting mix of traditional and non-traditional food here. It just comes down to the fact that Koreans love good food. No matter where in the world it's from...if it's tasty Koreans will like it. They'll probably adapt it to Korean tastes, and therefore foreigners may brand them ripoff artists, but adaptation to local tastes happens all over the world. How does pizza, pasta, Indian, Mexican, Thai etc. etc. in the US compare to the authentic counterparts in the countries of origin? Shrimp, bacon, corn, and weird cheese sauce on pizza is just Koreans looking out for other Koreans. That's fine with me, though I wouldn't go so far as to eat it.

I'll probably post some more stuff I eat, though my time here is sadly growing short. One thing I've noticed is that I wasted some luggage space by bringing my digital camera. My iPhone camera is more than adequate for the snaps that I take day in and day out. But lately I've been thinking that I want to take better food pictures. I noticed that there are absolutely NO ADS for point and shoot cameras here. There's no Ashton Kutcher whoring himself for some girly touch screen camera. However, I've seen a million ads for SLRs/Micro Four Thirds/other interchangeable lens cameras. It's rare that SLRs are advertised back in the states.

My sister pointed out that there's no market for point and shoot cameras here. Everyone's cell phone has like a 7 megapixel camera with flash, face/smile recognition, and image stabilization (another iPhone shortcoming). People here use an SLR for the great stuff, and their phone for just about everything else. I've been tempted into buying an entry level hybrid interchangeable lens camera here that's not on sale in the US...could better photography of food for my three readers soon follow? We shall see.

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