Gourmet’s beautiful, sincere portrait of food in Korea


Korea Gourmet

If you haven’t seen Gourmet’s Diary of  Foodie’s episode in Korea, it’s well worth watching, all 26 minutes of it.  It’s old news, from January 2009, which makes me think I really should get a TV.  I can’t embed it, but the link should work.  (Thanks for the tip, Nancy!)

At one point, Ruth Reichl shows up in a Chinese jacket to make Korean-style tofu.  This, especially after Gourmet’s Korean food spread that featured beautiful Asian hipsters lounging around chinoiserie furniture, is pretty ridiculous.

But Gourmet otherwise got so much right.  I loved that they highlighted Jeonju as an important center for Korean food, which is where Diane and I ate perfect bibimbap and had a spectacular 30-course meal.  The grandmother who shows her granddaughter how to make bindaetteok and naengmyeon, North Korean specialties, is adorable and wonderful.  The glee on her face as she flips her mung bean pancake made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, it reminded me so much of home.  You hear echoed over and over how much love and care are crucial in Korean food, from the man growing organic pyogo mushrooms to the woman certified in royal palace cooking.

It makes me so happy to see the food I love portrayed with warmth and sincerity.

(I was also secretly happy that there are Korean Americans out there speaking Korean with even worse accents than mine.)

I just have to say, though, the word “foodie” rubs me the wrong way.  I think Michael Ruhlman says it best:

I must here make a distinction that surely will be debated.  Since we are unlikely ever to get rid of the unfortunate term “foodie,” I would be grateful if we could separate people who like to cook from foodies.  I have nothing against foodies, I hope it’s clear.  But we should recognize that they are a distinct species, and some people are both foodie and cook.  Foodies are the first to hit the newest restaurant, or to plan a trip based on restaurant destinations; they’re are the first to order the coolest new ingredient and make sure you know it.  Foodies love to talk about food and cooking. Foodies watch food television with their pants around their ankles and buy The French Laundry Cookbook for the pictures.  Foodie is a social distinction, not a judgement.  Cooks, on the other hand, cook; they like to cook, they enjoy the work and like feeding others and take pride in various successes in the kitchen, whether it’s their first mayonnaise or a Rachael Ray recipe, and they are not daunted by failure.  (There is a third species, someone who does not like to cook, but loves to eat.  This is called being human.)


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10 Responses to “Gourmet’s beautiful, sincere portrait of food in Korea”

  1. claire Says:

    So happy to have found your blog. I lived in Korea for two years and the food is in my heart now. I actually teared up the first time I had it in Canada, because it brought being there back so vividly. Being a vegetarian, I so miss the incredible temple food I had around the country and in Insadong when I was in Seoul. So sad that most Korean restaurants in my city are limited to kalbi and samgyopsal… I have tried making some dishes but they are generally nowhere close to what I remember. It’s that ajjuma touch!! That and the little details of preparation are not usually mentioned in the translated cookbooks. After giving up for a few years I think I’m going to start trying again, and I’m looking forward to reading more here!

  2. Grace Says:

    Thanks so much for your kind words! We’ll definitely include vegetarian recipes in our cookbook, as well as this blog. It’s true that outside of Korea, it’s easy to assume all Koreans are only ravenous carnivores 🙂 Would love to hear how your experiments in Korean cooking go.

  3. claire Says:

    I’ll be sure to keep you posted 🙂

  4. nancy Says:

    i watched some other episodes and ruth reichl was still wearing her chinese jacket. she must just find it comfortable. it seems like a jewish ahjuhmah living in nyc thing to do.

    i was definitely moved by the grandmother. i am just guessing, but i think the only word in english she knew was “okay”. i feel like her granddaughter told her she would be on this american show so she was really trying to ham it up for the camera and also show off all of her english skills. i loved it. i also loved seeing her hands moochuh the bindaedduk. it reminded me of my grandma and her sturdy, hearty hands with all those nobs that look like tree roots that come up from the ground and snake around.

  5. Grace Says:

    I like your assessment of Ruth Reichl’s Chinese jacket!

    Your description of your grandmother’s hands is so beautiful. I totally agree–the halmuni totally hammed it up for the camera, which felt so endearingly Korean and familiar.

  6. unja Says:

    Thank you so much for posting the link to the video! We missed it due to technical difficulties, etc. So moving to see so much love and pride in Korean food. And cheers for Michael Ruhlman!

  7. Grace Says:

    You’re welcome! I’m just glad I found out about it myself, even if 9 months after the fact.

  8. Dan Gray Says:

    Thank you so much for your comments on the episode. I am the guy that’s introducing the Pyogo Mushroom part of the episode. I was curious if people had seen the episode and what their reactions were. Thanks.

  9. Grace Says:

    You’re very welcome–thank you for working on such a great video!

  10. mamabatesmotel Says:

    Reblogged this on mamabatesmotel.

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