Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’

Korean food, your way

April 17, 2009


You see here a plate of chicken in Oaxacan mole rojo, served with some Korean red beans and rice and a couple of squares of Korean radish pickles.

It was a lunch of convenience, my attempt to get rid of at least some of the funny little packets of food I have in my freezer.  (The mole rojo paste, in particular, was embarrassingly old.)  I’d originally planned to cook up the last bit of Mexican rice I have as well, but then I remembered how much Korean red bean-rice I had leftover and thought, hmm, beans and rice!

Honestly, it wasn’t very good.  Korean red beans and rice have a hearty, wholesome flavor that’s a little too strong for smooth, sweet mole rojo.  Even white Korean rice would have been better.  But my little attempt to marry Korean and Mexican flavors reminded me of a conversation I’d had at a Passover Seder last week.

I’d ended up sitting next to a researcher and writer at a food magazine.  She wasn’t Korean, but she’d noticed something I’ve been mulling over for awhile: Koreans are really open to new flavors.  She was thinking historically about how the New World chile pepper had become such an integral part of Korean cooking, but it’s still true today.

Korean kids eating street food in Seoul love putting slices of processed American cheese in their instant ramen and kimbap, or rice rolls.  There’s a whole stew built around Spam: budae-jjigae, otherwise known as Army Base Stew—where do you think they got the Spam? (Oh, this is awesome: it’s also called Johnson-tang, after Lyndon B. Johnson.)  And somehow, somewhere, someone got Le Cordon Bleu in Korea to create these horrific kimchi-French fusion dishes.  If anyone makes any of these and brings them to one of my Sunday dinners, I will give you a prize, with an extra-special prize if you make Camembert and Kimchi Fritters.

So it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear about Kogi, the Korean taco truck that’s Twittering all over L.A., or to watch David Chang’s star rise higher and higher.  (Kogi makes “inside-out” hotteok–brilliant!)  For all our Confucian values, Koreans, at least in our food, have never been afraid of change, newness, and foreign influence.  And for all my pooh-poohing about kiwi in galbi marinades, I think this openness is incredible and exhilarating.

More than anything else, my desire to respect this spirit is driving recipe development for this cookbook.  I am not a chef, neither is Diane.  We won’t be coming up with THE ultimate recipe for bulgogi.  But we will provide a strong, basic structure with which you can experiment and play and create recipes that are completely your own.

And if you tell me, as my friend Lina once did, that kimchi lasagna actually tastes good, I will try my hardest to believe you.