Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do You Know Bibimbap???!!!

Okay, I got up a bit early this morning. I was exhausted last night and turned in early, so there you have it. This morning I got up, logged into Facebook and made bad move in a round of Scrabble on Facebook with ZenKimchi (he's probably going to win because I didn't think it through). Anyway, that lead me to clicking around his blog this morning.

I read his post on a 곱창 귀 (Gobchang Gui) restaurant he'd found. I was just so jealous because I miss the big family dinners with intestine dishes, seriously. I was raised on downhome southern cooking and you don't get chitlins and hog maws at McDonalds. In fact, the idea of mass produced McChitlins or McMaw-nuggets just makes me simulataneously giggle, grimace and gag.

Anyway, there were somethings he talked about in his post that irked me a bit. So I commented at length and when I do that I realize it's something I ought to blog about myself.

Realize, for me, a lot of this is theraputic. I can talk about it here. I can think about it from my perspective and leave comments open to get other perspectives on a question or issue. It's better than forums where people tend to be more trollish than not, get personal way too quickly, and usually lack the desire or ability to really discuss the issue.

This is the thing. I've been here for awhile. I realize that when I'm dealing with your average Korean (if there is such a thing) that they have no idea of my background, upbringing or length of time here. What they see is a foreigner and with that, they associate all their ideas of what being a foreigner means to them. Unfortunately, that means I'm often in situations where I give a cold blank stare and shutdown versus showing how irritated their assumptions are to me.

A lot of those assumptions surround food. When I first came to Korea I was really confused as to why Koreans no matter where they're from and how you met would suggest the same dishes. Usually, if you're in a new situation, the Korean(s) in charge will suggest a meal. If you turn down the offer for the Korean version of pizza (don't do it) or dongcass (breaded welfare meat patties...ugh) and say you want Korean food, the suggestion is usually bibimbap or some version of Korean barbeque. Now after eating that over and over, honestly, it gets a bit dull.

Usually, the question is "Do you know bibimbap?" Well, ask me that question now and the person is likely to have me look at them, sneer and just walk away. Okay, not really, but it's really what I want to do. Usually, I'll say that yes I know it. I grew up in L.A. for goodness sake! I "knew" bibimbap years before I imagined I'd ever be in Korea much less live here for any length of time.

I stress to my friends to toss things up a bit. First, ask their foreign guests what kinds of foods they like. Second, LISTEN when the person answers and take that into account. Third, then take that person to any other kind of restaurant but a bibimbap or Korean barbeque restaurant. Of course, the exception would be if the person says their favorites are one of those or that they're having a craving for one of those foods. Also, I understand that in some situations, it really is about going through the motions, doing what you need to do and going home. This would be the case with that first faculty meeting, big orientation dinners or something like that. Okay, go predictable in those cases, but if you're friends and you're trying to show someone your culture then really show them your damn culture.

If I were showing someone new to L.A. my culture and give them a literally a taste of my life, I wouldn't take them to McDonalds or any big chain restaurant. That's not my culture or my life. I'd take them to a soul food restaurant (a few come to mind already) or one of the many ethnic restaurants that are my favorite back home in L.A.

I say this because I knew there had to be a bigger variety of food in Korea. I knew that all Koreans weren't sitting around eating kalbi every night. I wanted to know what the other varieties and types of foods were out there. This country is a peninsula, so there had to be all sorts of seafood dishes as well as rice and meats. Along the way, of course, I've learned a lot. I've been taken to and experienced a lot of unique types of Korean food.

However, there is still that dynamic of "take the foreigner to a safe" restaurant.

That should really fly out of the window when it's learned that a foreigner has been in Korean for awhile. It should particularly be tossed when the foreigner speaks the language (or is, at least, trying to) or is trying to make a life here. I'd say even if the foreigner is fresh off the boat, a FOB (as I've learned from my kyopo friends), take a chance and show them something that isn't bibimbap or barbeque.


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  1. One time, some grad students from Stanford came down to visit me here in So Cal. They'd been up there for 2 years and were curious about L.A. So I took them out to eat. First, we went to El Tepeyac, where they ate Hollenbeck burritos (named after the police station across the street). The next day I took them out again --this time they tried Menudo. They LOVED it. Said it reminded them of stuff back home.

    Anyway, I think we're lucky here --we can get all sorts of food. I remember going to France and being told that American food was so homogenous, that you'd never find sixty different types of yogurt in a grocery store here.
    And really, I knew what he was talking about, but also knew he couldn't show me a decent soft taco.

  2. Oh... and my biggest problem when I travel to areas around the sea is that I'm terribly allergic to shrimp ... which NO ONE can comprehend!

  3. LOL...

    Well, I miss the diversity of food to a certain degree, but Korea is actually catching up.

    I can get a decent Mexican burrito. It's just that the place that makes it changed hands re its owners and it's the most irritating white man in there EVAH, so I just don't go these days. (Now it's not 'cause he's white, it just happens that he is white. He's just unprofessional and I sense he might have not too deep of a like for certain peoples of color which is probably why his whiteness registers with me.)

    Instead, I go to Chinese restaurants, Middle Eastern restaurants, Indian restaurants (which L.A. has but the best outside of India will always be in London), British/Irish pubs (I'm currently addicted to the bangers and champ dish at a local pub), etc. Also, Tokyo has divine interpretations of various types of food from other countries and regions.

    L.A. is great for sure re restaurants, but they're catching up here in Korea and Japan's capital cities pretty quickly.

    That shrimp thing would really suck. I know here if you have a food alergy Koreans sometimes think you're just being picky.

  4. I had two aunts who loved chitlins; one of them kept a giant jar of pickled pigs feet in her garage, much to my disgust. I could never stand chitlins, nor could I stomach grits. Fortunately my mother didn't cook those Southern specialties, but she did cook collard greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and banana pudding. God, how I miss them! But I'd trade any of those any day for some of that bibimpap.

  5. Hehehehe, really?

    I'd nevah, evah trade in some downhome southern staples for bibimbap. I like me some bibimbap too.

    I'm the weird foreigner who douses it with lots of pepper paste which, of course, freaks the Koreans out 'cause they think no one likes pepper but them (funny, how pepper was imported to Korea and they think that...LOL.)


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