Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Korean interpretations of Western food


Recommended Posts

A friend of mine just got back from a just-under-two-year stint teaching English in South Korea. He told me of some very odd interpretations of Western dishes. For instance, he ordered nachos once and they came out hot with chips, cheese sour cream, meat ... and tons of gumballs. Chewing gum.

Another time he got potato wedges and ranch dressing at a different restaurant and was shocked to find them mixed up with maraschino cherries. Another common anomaly is meat and cheese sandwiches with Cool Whip, which he says are ubiquitous in convenience stores.

Has anyone heard stories like this?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We once went to a fried chicken place in Seoul and even though I enjoyed it, I thought their side dish of mayo/ketchup/shredded cabbage made for a very odd "cole slaw".

And once we had cheesecake that actually tasted like American cheese. I don't think I'd ever try it again. Maybe they don't have good cream cheese in Korea? I've never seen any bagels being sold there so perhaps there's no market for cream cheese.

And I know this isn't necessarily a food interpretation but I find it quite amusing that Koreans tend to eat their pizzas with a knife and fork, especially from having grown up in Brooklyn and watching people eat pizzas "Tony Manero" style, with two slices stacked up, and folded in half.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

Link to comment
Share on other sites

chappie, I'm asking my Korean-American/friend/roomie/fellow Cordon Bleu Grace - who's seething right beside me - and she wants to know where in South Korea your friend was - I'm toning down her language and her outrage - national pride, you know. She's guessing if he was in Seoul - her hometown - it was Itaewon.

Ellen, Grace also says - rants - that it's not a cole slaw you had but a salad - with an interpretation of Thousand Island salad dressing - and that it's not surprising to get a non-American "cole slaw" anywhere outside of the States. And she assures me - adamantly assures me - that they not only have good cream cheese - Philly and Korean brands - in an excellent and wide variety - but also bagels - many, many fine bagels - and that there are American specialty grocers in just about every neighborhood. They even have bagels at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leafs - yes, they have Coffee Beans - but not usually bagels at the Starbucks - yes, they have Starbucks.

As for pizza, Italians eat pizza with a knife and fork in Italy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yikes! Loufood let Grace know I didn't mean to rile up a fellow yuhjah! :wink: Admittedly, the last time I stepped onto Korean soil was 10 years ago in the early 90s, so I'm sure a lot has changed since then.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ellen - what were you thinking, girl? You know first-hand then how hot-blooded Koreans can be! Yeah, Grace is fully bi-cultural - she lives half the time in the LA area, the other half in Seoul. The Seoul of which she speaks is nothing at all like the one I imagined - or probably what most people know - and absolutely different than 10 years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

South Koreans, particularly in Seoul, are becoming sophisticated diners. Where 10, 15 years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find anything new and exciting, that's not the case anymore.

I know someone who just started a beer import business and he is doing very well.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

South Koreans, particularly in Seoul, are becoming sophisticated diners. Where 10, 15 years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find anything new and exciting, that's not the case anymore.

I know someone who just started a beer import business and he is doing very well.

what exactly does it take to become "sophisticated diners"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Right - SKorea has gone through a '"superglobalization" in food (as in other areas) over the last six-seven years. Vietnamese places are all over Seoul, not just Kangnam. There are Indian restaurants better than those you can get in most cities in the U.S. . .

Anyway, I think chappie's friend was either pulling his leg or exaggerating for effect. I doubt that you can get some of things that he's talking about (even in Itaewon!) in Korea. Or anywhere in the world for that matter. Lack of sophistication is one thing - but anyone who ate gumballs with nacho's wouldn't live to tell about it. "Meat and cheese sandwiches with Cool Whip" are definitely not "ubiquitous in convenience stores" - I've never seen anything remotely like it in my many visits there.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

Link to comment
Share on other sites

while agreeing with skchai about the usually recent provenance of "traditional" in many asian cultures i do want to militate against the tendency (and i should add that it isn't clear to me if this is what jschyun implies, hence my question) that "sophistication" maps onto some form of a movement to the global, if not "western". this is a tendency i see in a lot of writing about indian food as well and in a lot of reaction to "fusion" cuisine. as though certain cuisines are forever relegated to the "traditional" while "excitement", "progress" and "sophistication" only come from hybridization with something else. korean food as i know it seems pretty sophisticated on its own terms. i guess the question is one of how we define "sophisticated", and whether this is something that is culturally determined.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did not mean that Korean food is in any way unsophisticated, I certainly don't think this is the case, so please chill. I meant and should have said cosmopolitan. Nobody is arguing that hybrid/fusion/whatever is better than the so called "traditional" foods, so no worries.

I did mean that Koreans by and large are traveling more and it is reflected in the restaurants in Seoul. Hell, it's even more cosmopolitan than it was in the years before the world cup, just a couple of years ago.

My point, and I did have one, was that Seoul is not the backwards bubble-gum nacho eating city of rumor. Well, I had nother point but I don't have the time to make it.

Ciao.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did not mean that Korean food is in any way unsophisticated, I certainly don't think this is the case, so please chill. I meant and should have said cosmopolitan. Nobody is arguing that hybrid/fusion/whatever is better than the so called "traditional" foods, so no worries.

jschyun,

i did say that i wasn't saying that you were doing the kind of thing i talked about in my last post so i'm not sure why you think i need to "chill"--i'm not really worked up about it. on the other hand, how would we know that when you said "sophisticated" you meant "cosmopolitan"? i did ask for the clarification, didn't i?

and the tendency i'm talking about exists--even if you're not an advocate for it. we can certainly talk about it separate from you, can't we? it is an interesting topic, i think.

regards,

mongo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes I have heard the argument that hybrid/fusion thing is novel and therefore better, or variations of this argument, but mostly I hear about it when someone argues against this. When I said nobody was arguing this, I meant that nobody here in this thread was arguing it. I think you're pretty much preaching to the choir here when you argue against the idea that change necessarily means progress.

But this is not a new issue. People have always adopted foods of other cultures and made them their own, and it hasn't always been a good thing. An old example is the charlotte russe, I suppose, just off the top of my head. Of course, maybe that doesn't count because its provenance is clearly stated. Hmm. Tempura?

--edit

hmm, couldn't think of any bad examples.

--end edit

--another thought.

Hmm, I just realized I used the word "sophisticated" because my cousin was telling me how "sophisticated" Korean food scene has gotten, recently. Hmm, very sneaky, that mentality. I see what you mean.

--end thought

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have never been to Korea, but some of these things sound very Japanese as well.

Ketchup and mayo mixed together is a very common sauce here especially for deep fried foods and when you order french fries in most family style restaurants they will come with a small bowl of ketchup and mustard in a ying-yang pattern. I have also seen this "sauce" dressing cabbage or lettuce leaves.

Whip cream sandwiches are popular here too, usually with fruit, this is what they look like:

http://www.c-store.co.jp/shinshohin/reco0113_1.html

strawberrry sandwich

I have never seen the cream directly on meat but they do package the sanwiches 3 halves to a pack and I have seen a strawberry sandwich in the same wrapper as a katsu sandwich and a cucumber and tomato sandwich. Whipped cream-like potato salad is a very popular sandwich filling in Japan though.....

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think there are also people who believe that in Euro-American-style restaurants, knowledge of and use of ingredients usually used in Asian cuisines is taken as a sign of sophistication, even if the result isn't a thoroughgoing fusion (whatever "thoroughgoing fusion" would really mean).

But if we want to talk about whether fusion=sophistication, it seems to me that's another thread, albeit a related one.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My point, and I did have one, was that Seoul is not the backwards bubble-gum nacho eating city of rumor.

Et voila - very well put.

But the sad thing is that rumour-mongers will perpetuate that image to people only too willing to believe it. And for anyone who just happens to read this thread's title - that's all they'll come away with.

Pan - funny coincidence - I'm telling my friend Miran who's over for dinner about this thread - she's Korean, a flutist, studying here in Paris.

We - Grace, Miran, and I - were just discussing they even have Sizzler, Bennigan's, and even TGI Friday's in Seoul. For better or worse, South Koreans have all the big name Western/American restaurant chains in town, they know what it is - and for the last time - they're not willy-nilly popping gumballs in nachos or whipped cream on subs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

After some thought, I believe the word "sophisticated" is still valid for use in describing the average Seoul diner. For those that are disturbed or bothered by it, "cosmopolitan" is an adequate substitute. However, I still think that the average Seoul diner is much more sophisticated about what goes in his/her mouth, than say, the average Los Angeles diner, for example. I think I can understand how someone, who has not been to Seoul in recent years would take the word "sophisticated" to mean that because there are Euro-American choices that therefore I'm saying that because of this, the diners are more sophisticated. I have to say that's not right at all.

The sophistication that I spoke of is a result of a ridiculous amount of choices at every price point, from the food stalls on the streets to little neighborhood restaurants, to food courts in newly constructed malls, to the expensive joints where you have your own room and a bunch of people serving you. Also people are dining out in droves. My relatives and friends eat out an average of 3-5 times a week, not including delivered food.

But I did want to point out that Seoul diners are often traveled diners. This doesn't have anything to do with an assumed superiority of foreign cuisines, but to the fact that Korean, esp. Seoul diners are no strangers to them. Plus the influence is coming not just from Euro/Am sources but from everywhere around the world, as skchai mentioned. The fact that Koreans are going abroad in large numbers means that the likelihood that Seoul diners will willingly eat gumballs on nachos is pretty slim. Why the hell was he getting nachos in Seoul anyway?

I think Korea has less of a problem with foreign influences than other countries do. But that's a biased opinion, of course.

I can understand why Cordon Bleu friend was so annoyed. It's easy to get great food in Seoul. I had a rice dish in an old Korean restaurant that almost made me cry. There's a buffet restaurant in Apkujong (sp?) neighborhood that has an all you can eat Korean buffet restaurant for $7, including unlimited wine and beer! One awesome naengmyun restaurant comes to mind. Great Indian food as someone mentioned, as well as a wonderful vegetarian one. I have relatives in some country towns as well, and bad food was easier for me to get, but not as easy as in Laguna Hills, CA (no offense to Laguna Hills people). But Cool Whip with cheese? Hmm...

Some people are shocked and disgusted by Korean (Korean-Am?) potato salad, which in my experience can have grapes, apples, other fruit in it. The sweet fruit is a nice counterpart to the mayonnaise and other stuff, IMHO, and it's not nearly as disgusting as ambrosia, a purely American invention.

chappie, can you talk to your friend and find out where and when these events allegedly happened?

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

After some thought, I believe the word "sophisticated" is still valid for use in describing the average Seoul diner. For those that are disturbed or bothered by it, "cosmopolitan" is an adequate substitute. However, I still think that the average Seoul diner is much more sophisticated about what goes in his/her mouth, than say, the average Los Angeles diner, for example. I think I can understand how someone, who has not been to Seoul in recent years would take the word "sophisticated" to mean that because there are Euro-American choices that therefore I'm saying that because of this, the diners are more sophisticated. I have to say that's not right at all.

The sophistication that I spoke of is a result of a ridiculous amount of choices at every price point, from the food stalls on the streets to little neighborhood restaurants, to food courts in newly constructed malls, to the expensive joints where you have your own room and a bunch of people serving you. Also people are dining out in droves. My relatives and friends eat out an average of 3-5 times a week, not including delivered food.

But I did want to point out that Seoul diners are often traveled diners. This doesn't have anything to do with an assumed superiority of foreign cuisines, but to the fact that Korean, esp. Seoul diners are no strangers to them. Plus the influence is coming not just from Euro/Am sources but from everywhere around the world, as skchai mentioned. The fact that Koreans are going abroad in large numbers means that the likelihood that Seoul diners will willingly eat gumballs on nachos is pretty slim. Why the hell was he getting nachos in Seoul anyway?

I think Korea has less of a problem with foreign influences than other countries do. But that's a biased opinion, of course.

I can understand why Cordon Bleu friend was so annoyed. It's easy to get great food in Seoul. I had a rice dish in an old Korean restaurant that almost made me cry. There's a buffet restaurant in Apkujong (sp?) neighborhood that has an all you can eat Korean buffet restaurant for $7, including unlimited wine and beer! One awesome naengmyun restaurant comes to mind. Great Indian food as someone mentioned, as well as a wonderful vegetarian one. I have relatives in some country towns as well, and bad food was easier for me to get, but not as easy as in Laguna Hills, CA (no offense to Laguna Hills people). But Cool Whip with cheese? Hmm...

Some people are shocked and disgusted by Korean (Korean-Am?) potato salad, which in my experience can have grapes, apples, other fruit in it. The sweet fruit is a nice counterpart to the mayonnaise and other stuff, IMHO, and it's not nearly as disgusting as ambrosia, a purely American invention.

chappie, can you talk to your friend and find out where and when these events allegedly happened?

jschyun,

this may be a matter of semantics in the end but your use of these words doesn't seem very consistent. in one place you say sophisticated=cosmopolitan and in the bulk of your post you suggest sophisticated=availability of choice. does this mean that a food culture which is dominated by, for lack of a better word, "native" traditions cannot be "sophisticated" in either sense? i don't think the cosmopolitan has any sort of monopoly on sophistication, unless that is how we define it. so perhaps we need to begin with first principles and say what we mean by sophisticated. as for the question of choice, your original post suggested that this "sophistication" is a recent thing, contrasted with 10-15 years ago when "new and exciting" things weren't available. so, what are these "new and exciting" things that have rendered the korean dining experience, if not the palate, more sophisticated? people eat out in droves in the u.s as well--diners, fast-food places etc. are all packed, as are the international food courts in malls. is this also then "sophistication"?

perhaps all you're trying to say is that koreans have access to and are in greater numbers trying out more kinds of cuisines than just their own local ones. i don't know if this equates a move towards "sophistication".

personally, i'm more interested in how cultures digest outside influences. as such i am not horrified by the thought of gumballs on nachos (though i do find it quite unlikely); cultures and cuisines can become literally re-configured outside their "home" locations. see, for example, how spam has become a "traditional" ingredient in korea or hawaii.

this is an interesting discussion though and i look forward to your response.

mongo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't see how this is inconsistent. I think it's related. I do believe that because Seoul people have lots of choices, money to eat out (or an easy line of credit), experience eating abroad, that they are knowledgeable, discerning diners which isn't much of a stretch to mean sophisticated.

I would say it's not so much that one can't have sophisticated tastes if one doen't have access to other cuisines, but that it may not be as fully appreciated. How can you say you know that Korea has the best ginseng in the world (it does) if you have never tasted ginseng grown elsewhere? How can you appreciate how wonderful the street food stalls are, if you have never lived in CA where there is no such thing? How do you know that Korea has the very best little red bean cakes in the world? (It may, but I haven't tried them all so how do I know?) I would argue that you know your own cuisine better if you get to see others as well. It gives you a different perspective. And it has nothing to do with the cuisine itself, but it does help the ego to know that Korean food is kick ass. That is not to say that there is no inherent satisfaction in eating really delicious food. (whoah double negative) Anyway, I believe the sophisticated diner is a knowledgeable diner, and Seoul is filled with them.

--edit

Being able to have new and exciting stuff is great. 24 hour pho! I juxtaposed that with the 'sophisticated' word in the first post, so that is probably why people had a problem with it. That doesn't take away from the "authentic" food experience, and not all the new and exciting restaurants are non-Korean, although the wording of my post was perhaps unfortunate. Actually, unless things have changed for the worse, a lot of the new stuff is still Korean but just new. But also there are new foreign food restaurants sprouting up and I think that's exciting too. They were surprisingly good, what I had anyway. I had some awesome coffee with real thick cream on bone china.

The suburb my mom's nephew lives in is only a decade old. There was more building going on as well. New and exciting means a lot of things here.

--end edit

You could get into the hybrid fusion argument, that the old good "traditiona"l foods are falling by the wayside in favor of fried chicken and mcdonalds, and that nobody knows what good food is like anymore. blah blah. That's a totally different discussion, but Koreans have nothing to worry about. Look at the French. The French have been bemoaning the sad state of their culinary affairs for years, but the fact of the matter is, who has the time to baby a pot of boeuf bourguinon when wife needs to work to make ends meet? Though now that the French economy is a little better, perhaps Quickburger won't do so well now. England seems like a different story to me. English people were so glad to get rid of their tradition of dishes like spotted dick and the pullman(ploughman?) lunch, that I only saw one or two English restaurants (I think one was on Strand, that prime rib place) in a sea of Indian, quickie marts, sushi, Chinese, sandwich shops. I did not see one pasty place though I may have missed it on the way to that Indian restaurant in Nob Hill. I only saw one fish & chips place. Contrast that to the several toekkbokkie vendors you'll see on one street in Seoul.

I'm no expert but I would hazard a guess that if Korean food in Seoul degenerates into food hell, I would argue that foreign restaurants had nothing to do with it, unless the name starts with "Mc" or "Star". It's about jobs, kids, money. Who makes their own duenjang or kochujang anymore? Nobody that's who. At least nobody I know. My grandma made a delicious duenjang, kochujang, everything, now that she's dead, nobody has time or the skill. Kimchi is easier, but still busy pple buy it from the market. Who has time? Well, hopefully restaurants will keep it up, because the working woman can't these days.

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would say it's not so much that one can't have sophisticated tastes if one doen't have access to other cuisines, but that it may not be as fully appreciated. How can you say you know that Korea has the best ginseng in the world (it does) if you have never tasted ginseng grown elsewhere? How can you appreciate how wonderful the street food stalls are, if you have never lived in CA where there is no such thing? How do you know that Korea has the very best little red bean cakes in the world? (It may, but I haven't tried them all so how do I know?) I would argue that you know your own cuisine better if you get to see others as well. It gives you a different perspective. And it has nothing to do with the cuisine itself, but it does help the ego to know that Korean food is kick ass. That is not to say that there is no inherent satisfaction in eating really delicious food. (whoah double negative) Anyway, I believe the sophisticated diner is a knowledgeable diner, and Seoul is filled with them.

so, you're saying a sophisticated diner is one who has eaten a whole range of different things, not just her own local cuisine? so sophisticated=cosmopolitan? where cosmopolitan=access to more than just your own. well, we'll just have to disagree on the first point--i don't think those two things should be mapped onto each other (in any case it is only a move that cosmpolitan people would make).

i think you can be a very sophisticated diner without knowing any cuisine other than your own--that you don't need to be inserted into a global economy of taste to achieve that.

the one thing i like about your definition though is that it can be turned on lots of ethnocentric snobs--i'd argue that on your terms the majority of french food snobs, for instance, aren't sophisticated since they've probably not spent much time eating foods from entirely different culinary traditions*. just don't tell them that though.

edited to add:

even if we can arrive at some general characteristics/qualifications for a "sophisticated palate"--say, can distinguish constituent flavors of a dish, can appreciate technique while tasting--i would argue that these sophisticated palates would still be almost entirely bound by culture. a palate that may be deemed "sophisticated" in one culinary context may not be able to function analagously in another. thus someone who may be a gourmet in an italian or spanish context, say, may not be able to tell the difference between shit and shinola in another--see all the american foodies who enjoy eating at the crappiest indian restaurants in the u.s; or see my own post in the "one day in bangkok thread" on this forum where i describe what may well have been an esteemed local specialty as tasting and smelling like ass.

(a parenthetical digression: there could be a number of reasons for this latter experience--1) possible but highly unlikely is that i do have a sophisticated palate in the thai context and discerned poor quality in a dish i'd never eaten before; 2) i haven't tasted or smelled enough types of ass to be able to judge the dish qua its ass-nes --this is true but not a situation i expect to remedy any time soon; 3) while i have a fairly highly developed palate for bengali and other indian food i'm not really in a position to judge thai food on its own terms.)

so, to cut long, belabored story short, i think there is a necessary and crucial difference between saying that some koreans may now be less insular in their tastes and saying that they have become sophisticated diners in the process.

*thus some of them will say, as is being said right now in the haute/hot discussion on the general food topics forum, that too much spice/heat in a dish ruins/wastes expensive ingredients etc.

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

England seems like a different story to me. English people were so glad to get rid of their tradition of dishes like spotted dick and the pullman(ploughman?) lunch, that I only saw one or two English restaurants (I think one was on Strand, that prime rib place) in a sea of Indian, quickie marts, sushi, Chinese, sandwich shops. I did not see one pasty place though I may have missed it on the way to that Indian restaurant in Nob Hill. I only saw one fish & chips place. Contrast that to the several toekkbokkie vendors you'll see on one street in Seoul.

separate point, so i'm taking it up separately: what is also different in the english case is that since the 1960s immigration acts there the definition of "english" has qualitatively changed. thus indian/pakistani food in england is not a case of a foreign cuisine achieving dominance at the expense of a local (whatever we might think of it) but of a new local emerging. small point maybe, but worth making.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

what is also different in the english case is that since the 1960s immigration acts there the definition of "english" has qualitatively changed. thus indian/pakistani food in england is not a case of a foreign cuisine achieving dominance at the expense of a local (whatever we might think of it) but of a new local emerging. small point maybe, but worth making.

Thank God for small favors.

--edit

No offense to the English, you understand. But who can resist curry and a papadum?

--end edit

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I hang out with a lot of Koreans, but we never really got into talks of non-traditional Korean foods in Seoul, outside of fast food/Western chains. Are there are lot of "trendy" fine dining or fusion places? I know in Beijing and Shanghai this has been the trend over the past 5 years, especially trying to create some kind of "contemporary Chinese cuisine" and the like. The older capitals of food in Asia, HK and Tokyo are starting to get challenged from cities like Beijing, and I wonder how Seoul is doing in this respect?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...