Korean Fusion Cuisine

This morning, I received an e-mail from Jeffery Pilcher, the esteemed Mexican food historian. He was curious about the Korean taco phenomenon in the US, which started in late 2008 with Roy Choi’s Kogi Truck.

I was so thrilled that he reached out to me because I’ve been following Dr. Pilcher’s work since I was in college. One of my favorite food articles of all time is his piece titled “Industrial Tortillas and Folkloric Pepsi: The Nutritional Consequences of Hybrid Cuisines in Mexico” published in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies (2003). In this article, he discusses the neoliberal market forces that transformed consumption practices and national identity in Mexico. He shows how globalization leads to hybrid cuisines with the incorporation of new ingredients and food processing techniques.

Once I wrote Dr. Pilcher with my initial thoughts regarding Korean tacos, I began thinking about the different dishes that have become more mainstream in the US in recent years. Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) and bibimbap instantly came to mind. I’ll post more on each throughout the week but I first want to share my most recent Korean fusion meal.

I was at University of Michigan last weekend for a conference for next generation Korean Studies scholars.IMG_1010

I was on a panel titled:”Production of Nation” and presented on my research on gastro-nationalism and plastic food models in Korea. I was the last person to go before lunch, which might have led to torturing the audience. I showed various photos of fake food models to explain their diverse social functions in promoting gastro-nationalism. Many told me over lunch that looking at my photos made them very hungry.

Here’s an example: Bibimbap and abalone and bulgogi stew

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 1.32.08 PM

Once the session was over, we all rushed to the next room where we were greeted with this spread from Seoul Street, Ann Arbor, MI.IMG_1006(The offerings: Bulgogi + chicken tacos, kimchi cheese fries, kimchi fried rice, hot and sweet Korean fried chicken, creamy corn salad, and pickled daikon)

IMG_1007My plate!


New discovery: Kimchi cheese fries!

As a faithful anthropologist, I closely observed others while they ate. The group was divided largely into two camps about the food. The Korean scholars from Seoul National University generally commented that they did not consider this “real” Korean food but were tickled by the mexican fusion twist. The scholars based in the US were more comfortable with the hybrid/Americanized food and talked about how much they love Korean tacos. The Korean scholars told me that they were finding it difficult to eat bread and non-Korean foods at every meal. I made sure to pass the kimchi to them during dinner at a more conventional Korean bbq restaurant.

Can Korean tacos be successfully exported to Korea? How can this American fad be translated into Korean culinary culture? What will be the process of naturalization for it to be accepted as Korean?

Do you know of any places in Korea that serve Korean tacos? I’ll report back in a few months once I’m there!


Mayonnaise Nation

Mayo is one of those things that some people absolutely adore and others despise.
While I was in Stockholm, I was struck by the amount of mayo used to flavor food.
Here are some examples of mayo-love I found during my sightseeing adventures:
1. At the famous food hall: Pre-prepared main meals
Where does mayo start and where does it end?
2. At the supermarket: Flavored mayo tubes
This display really made me want to paint!
In most cases, the flavor was indicated by the drawing on the end (shrimp, ham, smoked salmon, bacon, etc.) but at breakfast I encountered a tube with a picture of a little boy. …What flavor could this be?
(It turned out to be ham.)
3. At Marcus Samuelsson’s Airport Cafe “Street Food”: Mayo “frosting”
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this three tiered cake (sandwich)
laced with heaping amount of frosting (mayo).
Could mayo be a defining taste for Swedish cuisine? Does it make food taste more Swedish? I believe so!
Next time I’ll share my reasoning but in the mean time, just take a moment to imagine what it would be like to eat this cake/sandwich!

Food Over Fashion

I used to be really into fashion. I strived to be up to date on on all the new trends.

Those days are long gone. Now, I’m more in tune with food and food related things.

For example, every time I looked into a show window when walking around the most crowded shopping area in London I spotted food!

Luck or Chance?

Case 1.

Selfridges Department Store

Does anyone know who these two Brits are at the table?

The couple were eating a full english breakfast.

Case. 2

H&M store window on Oxford Street

The hot dogs and hamburgers are fake but the potato chips are real!

 The words that came to my mind when I saw this was cheap, urban, and junk.
Not sure if this helps the brand.

Case. 3

Afternoon Tea at Harrods Department Store

I liked this presentation the best because it* looked pretty and delicate.
(*the dainty desserts!)

What are the things that you notice the most? Do you think that reflects your greatest interest in life?

Pisa Airport’s Secret Cafeteria

I’ve been pretty lucky this summer.

Of the 9 flights I have taken, only one from Pisa to London was delayed for 2 hours.

Have you been to the Pisa airport? It’s jam packed with stores and people! It’s disorganized and grimy, like an old train station.

I walked around to find a place to eat but all the fast food/take away places did not entice me. Instead, I went upstairs and found a cafeteria that was filled with “locals” rather than tourists.

I observed what people were choosing off of the compact buffet line and noticed that the “locals” were actually airport employees. The cooks knew them by their first names and openly gave them extra portions. Relieved that I found an alternative to the numerous tourist traps below, I decided to try the food for myself.

I quickly learned that the pasta carbonara and tuna salad were the popular dishes among the employees that day.

When I took my first bite of the pasta, I immediately understood why almost all of the employees had selected this.

It was light and airy with a flavorful hint of pancetta. It was nothing like the other carbonaras I have tasted! It was simple and straightforward. The salad (minus the canned olives and corn) was hearty and satisfying as well.

As silly as it may sound, I felt really proud for having found a “local” spot as I ate my lunch among the Italian airport employees.

It was a nice calm lunch away from the anxious travelers in the congested terminal.

Airport treasure hunt

Everyone already knows that I’m interested in airline meals and airport restaurants. But I don’t think I’ve written a post about food found in airports.

Here are some highlights of what I found at various airports last month!

1. New Flavor 

Bolognese flavored chips at Orly.

It was the first time I saw this flavor! Didn’t get to try it, which I regret tremendously.

2. Miniature

Food magnets at Pisa.

The small boxes of pasta really contained miniature pasta!
So could this mean that I would get a taste of Limoncello from that tiny bottle?

I was tempted to buy one for “research” purposes but I contained my desire once I saw that it was 7.50 Euros each.

3. Novelty

Reindeer and Moose steak at Stockholm Arlanda Airport.

What was my favorite you ask?

The $42 reindeer steak!

Did you know Rudolph had such a high price tag?

The Colonel and I

Walking around downtown Louisville, I spotted the tourist information center.

I instantly charged toward it and was delighted to see this:

The Colonel himself!

Although I can’t remember the last time I had KFC and I’m not a big fan, I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet the legendary Colonel in person.

Up close, the Colonel looked a bit gaunt. I asked him about his health and he told me: “I had to stop eating my ‘finger lickin’ good’ chicken in my old age.” He then offered me some chicken that was just out of the fryer.

I politely declined and quickly got out of the way so others could have a chance to meet the Colonel too!

This display caught my eye and reminded me of the Das Racist’s song: Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Does this follow YUM’s brand motto: “Alone we are delicious, together we’re YUM?”

Lamby Lamb Cake

“I’m so excited for the lamb cake!”

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard my friend exclaim this was a dense ground lamb patty, maybe served over some greens with gravy.

I was surprised to hear that she was actually referring to a pound cake decorated to look like a lamb.
It was the first time I was introduced to this Easter food item.

I wasn’t able to make it to the lamby lamb cake (from Jarosch bakery) tasting earlier this week but my friend sent me photos!


The sweet and precious lamb


I’m full of regret for not being there to taste this lamb but it sure looks tasty!

Green Food

I’ve never really understood the celebrations (binge drinking, wearing green, and eating green tinted food!) that take place on St. Patrick’s day in the US.

Most Irish nationals I’ve asked have told me that it’s a more low key holiday in Ireland without much of the aforementioned activities.

What I find most disturbing is how the Chicago river becomes a vivid green, or an “Irish Green” as many have told me. Even though in 1966, the dye was switched to a vegetable base (a more “eco-friendly” chemical), I’m still not convinced that the dye in such high doses is safe.

So on the topic of green colored food, would you be more inclined to eat something that is “normally” not green on St. Patrick’s day? Would your food taste different? Or would you perceive it differently because it’s green?

For example, could green ketchup be tastier than red? I saw that Burger King was giving out free fries in celebration of this holiday but I did not venture out to try it.

Rather, I decided to try a green bud light. To be honest, I didn’t want to because this drink would certainly give me cancer. But for the sake of “research” I decided that I needed to take the risk.

My friend assured me that she had tried it multiple times and it tasted just the same as regular bud light. We ordered two but we could only get one because that was the last glass available. I’m a sucker for limited availability so I was convinced that I was destined to taste it.

The beer itself didn’t taste like much but I can’t really comment since it was only my second bud light of my life. The color was actually very disturbing and I kept on wanting to taste something that would help me connect the color to a specific “green” appropriate taste.

I felt a bit queasy looking at the green beer so I tried distracting myself but ended up not finishing it.

I think I’m set for life. No need for another green beer. But it was certainly fun to try it!

Popcorn sushi

Guess what I discovered over the weekend?

A new way to enjoy popcorn!

Meet popcorn sushi:

Air popped corn wrapped in wasabi flavored roasted seaweed

(Technically, sushi is not the right term here since this is more like a “roll” but popcorn sushi sounds more interesting.)

The thin, crispy, salty, wasabi-stingy roasted seaweed really complemented the crunchy and fluffy freshly air popped corn. I think I’ve just found the next big snack concept!


Honey bread

One of my resolutions for this year is to try more food/products.

While I was in Seoul earlier this month, I discovered that honey bread has become
as popular as waffles at coffee shops all around Korea.

At first, I thought it was something similar to a coffee cake or pound cake.
But I was told that it had a completely different texture and taste.

I had to try it for myself! I dragged my cousin to Zoo Coffee on New Year’s day and we ordered two cappuccinos and an “original” honey bread. (The other options were garlic honey bread, berry honey bread, and ice cream honey bread.) The staff told us that the honey bread would take 10 mins to be ready.

We sat and looked around. It really felt like we were at a zoo.

Inside Zoo Coffee

Me-20= Little girl

The cappuccino was tasty!

Ta-da~ The original honey bread

It was basically a thick piece of fluffy white toast with a very  crispy crust
dusted with sugar and soaked in butter.

And it tasted just like that.

We barely finished it because the bread + sugar + butter combo
was too heavy and filling.
Next time you hear Koreans tell you that most Koreans
don’t like sweet and buttery stuff, remind them of honey bread.

 The best part: the crunchy wall!