Exhausted feet wrapped in light-up sneakers run across the hot Santa Ana pavement and into the building where the smell of stale corn dogs lingers in the summer air. Without hesitation, these feet head to the back corner of the convenience store and to the machine of magic delight with the anticipation of a frozen treat. I am eight years old inside a 7-11 about to satiate my intense slurpee craving. A staple of my childhood, the slurpee was my reward for surviving a rigorous and demanding day at El Dorado elementary school.
The slurpee was a relief from the “troubles” of childhood, a cool comfort that soothed any worries and brought me to tranquility. In the store, my only concern was: do I want blueberry, white cherry, and coca-cola or white cherry and coke or JUST white cherry. Should I include mountain dew?
Conveniently located between my school and my house, this particular 7-11 was a regular part of my daily schedule, especially during hot summer days. The slurpee is nostalgia in a cup, a cool reminder of youthful innocence and bliss. This refreshing treat brings me back to my childhood. Of the corn dogs and the heat and the excitement and the cool relief as I jumped back into my mom’s car. Slurpees truly are a beautiful thing. Where is the nearest 7-11…?
In the story of Momotaro, foods contain mythic powers and are central to the tale’s plot. Momotaro arrived to Earth inside a peach. When his mother cracked the peach open, a baby was inside. This metaphorical opening of the fruit symbolizes his birth, the peachy insides acting as a womb. The fruit contains the hero and is localized as a mythic fruit in Japan, connecting Momotaro to a peach. Also, the millet dumplings contain a mythic source of energy and power for Momotaro. Offering the food to animals, Momotaro builds a small army to defeat the evil ogres. The dumplings contain a powerful aura and aid Momotaro on his journey. The peach and the dumplings have mythic implications in this folk tale.
The story of Dionysus provides a mythic tie to wine. The child of Zeus and a mortal (Zeus was a player), Dionysus was born illegitimately. Zeus’ wife succeeded in killing Dionysus’ mom, but was less effective in murdering the child. Taken by Zeus, Dionysus gained his fathers’ strength. After Zeus’ wife destroyed him, Dionysus’ powers gave him immortality. Reborn, Dionysus was filled with both joy and rage. His story symbolizes the grapes’ cycle, with the vines being pruned and later pulled to bear fruit. Dionysus energy is contained in the wine, filling up the drinker with a greater power. One can either be joyous and ebullient, or angry. The Greeks celebrate Dionysus in the Spring with an enormous festival. The grapes contain a mythic quality traced to Dionysus’ story.
Tanizaki describes “magical food” as food that is tasted with one’s entire body. Count G, seeking pleasure, wanders upon a meal that provides him with an overwhelming sensation. His whole body is devoted into the act of tasting the food; every sense is concentrated on this meal. Magical food transports you into the world of its flavors. The foreign nature of this food adds to its wonder. These flavors provide a palette unlike anything he has ever experienced. One similar foodie that comes to mind is the rat in the film Ratatouille. There is a sequence when he eats fruit and is transported into a world of food. Reality melts away as he combines flavors to create something truly extraordinary. Magic is about being transported, about transcending reality into a heaven of one’s self. A good film makes one forget about the world outside the theatre. A magical piece of music makes one close his eyes and feel the music.
A restaurant that truly transported me was Mala in Maui, Hawaii. This magical place is located right on the ocean, and at sunset, looks truly beautiful. The food is fresh, innovative, and extraordinary. We ordered and shared many appetizers and were in awe as we tasted the food. Each dish was a world unto itself. Everyone’s entrees were equisite as well. There were times in the meal when nobody said a word, and there were times when people enthused about how delicious their meal was. Afterwards, everyone sat in ecstasy at what had just happened to them. Truly a “magical” meal.
Fukuoka was a purist who believes in simplicity. At a young age, he underwent an existential realization. Based off the idea that “In this world there is nothing at all…” (Fukouka 8), Fukouka constructed a way to cook naturally. Without the use of chemicals and technology, he keeps his food pure. Instead of tirelessly mending his farm and forcing the plants to grow, he allows them to grow naturally. This minimalist style sharply contrasts that of the new “foodie” culture.
In today’s culture, there is an AKM (alternative knowledge movement) that is sweeping the world. A large group of the young generation is increasingly concerned with being “hip” and self-aware. Companies like Apple are dominating the youth market, with advertisements designed to attract young audiences. With a young generation that is increasingly self aware, the way food is presented and being consumed is rapidly changing. On television, there are entire networks dedicated to food and food competitions being watched by millions. Thousands flock to follow food trucks, fervently checking their websites. This new culture is obsessed with food. Priding themselves on their heightened tastes, these foodies document their culinary adventures, critically judging and savoring each bite. Foodies enjoy gourmet food and want to improve their experience.
These two mindsets vary greatly. Fukouka takes a pure approach to eating: he lets his crops grow on their own and eats very simple foods. Flavor isn’t as important as survival and nutrition. The “foodie” culture actively searches for new flavors. Fukouka has a sense of natural cooking, whereas the foodies want to maximize their enjoyment, savoring the little moments of true bliss.
All hype aside, the Kogi taco truck has revitalized korean barbeque, or at least has brought it to a new crowd. The Kogi truck combines korean bbq with mexican and american styles, serving up classic “kbbq” flavors in tacos, sliders, and burritos. For instance, the most popular order (and my personal favorite) is the short rib taco, which includes the distinct flavor of korean short ribs with salsa, onions, cilantro, lettuce, and kimchi, all served up in a tortilla. It’s a marvelous combination of flavors, something surprisingly similar yet wholly new. It tastes fresh, yet, on a carnivore’s level, completely satisfying. The idea of serving modern food tied to the past is a central part of head chef Roy Choi’s style. Most dishes on the menu feature classical flavors yet all somehow manage to taste new. This can equally be attributed to the style of how the dishes are served. Since Kogi is a truck, it travels to its locations and draws a large crowd each time. The chefs use Twitter and their own web site to notify followers what locations they will be at that week. My first Kogi experience was a revelation: a huge line of young, socially networked “foodies,” skateboarders on a half pipe, a DJ playing hip hop. It was definitely an eye-opener, and that was before we got the food. The tacos were incredible, unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. Kogi feels distinctly “of this time”. This particular food truck has since launched the “food truck craze.” There are now hundreds of food trucks in California and even beyond, all on Facebook and Twitter. Kogi has invaded culinary magazines, with chef Roy Choi being named “Food and Wine Best New Chef of 2010.” His food is linked to the past while being firmly rooted in the present. I suggest the Short Rib Tacos or the Sliders, maybe the Kimchi Quesadilla. Everything is insanely delicious. Also, if you appreciate Kogi, check out Chego, Choi’s first restaurant. The prime rib sandwich is ridiculously tasty. -Sam