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8 Jun

Even you have never learned Korean before, you must know the word “Kimchi”. Kimchi is definitely the national food that can represent Korea the most.


 It is nothing flamboyant but a simple dish of fermented vegetables with seasoning that anyone can afford. Besides it is well known for beneficial to health, its flaming red makes people drool at first sight, not to even mention the flavorful taste that can spice up any dish and goes will with any other companion. It has such good taste that many of my Korean friends said that they can finish a bowl of rice just with kimchi.

It exists in everywhere in Korea, if you go into a Korean restaurant, you will be served with different side dishes, which for sure include kimchi that comes with anything you order. In addition, it is also an ingredient that constitutes for several kinds of Korean cuisine. For example, ramyeon, Kimchi pancake, Kimchi stew, stir-fry Kimchi pork, Kimchi fried rice and the list goes on.

kimchi pancake

kimchi fried rice

kimchi stew

Kimchi is an indispensable part of a Korean culture in the fact that many families still make their own Kimchi back at home though it can be easily bought at any market. Koreans certainly take pride in Kimchi that they also have been promoting the kimchi culture to the rest of the world. There is a museum in Seoul dedicated to Kimchi that attracts loads oof visitors from both domestic and foreign. Korean airlines also offer Kimchi as part of their airplane meal. I have also read a news article about the Korean astronauts bringing Kimchi to the space. 

Nowadays, Kimchi no longer is limited in Korea, it has breaks its way into the world, and had even became part of the food truck culture in Los Angeles.


7 Jun

Every kid in Korea has an experience of eating a red, spicy, delicious mouthful of tteokbokki at a street vendor’s cart on their way back from school. Although modern type of tteokbokki has a short history, it is considered one of the top street foods in Korea.


Tteokbokki can be easily bought and consumed anywhere. It is sold in millions of Kimbap Chunguk chain restaurants around the country, which is equivalent to McDonalds of America. It is also the main food that is sold by millions of street vendor carts.

Garaetteok used in tteokbokki is a long cylindrical rice cake that is used for various of  Korean recipes. Tteok is a food with a long history in Korea, which can be traced all the way back to the 3 Kingdoms period in Korea. Modern tteokbokki is related to Gung Jung tteokbokki, a dish which includes nuts, meat, vegetables, and eggs steamed in a soy sauce based sauce.

Gung Jung Tteokbokki

Because tteok required lots of grains and care to make, it was considered a delicacy, only to be served to the royal family. Interestingly enough, tteokbokki is one of the cheapest snack foods in Korea today although it has changed dramatically from its original form. Modern tteokbokki is stir fried with vegetables, eggs, oden in a gochujang (red pepper paste) paste based sauce.

Tteok is no longer handmade, but made in factories and can be easily obtained. A plate of tteokbokki only costs around 1000-2000 won (1-2 dollars), making it one of the top snack food choices for Korean people.

Images from and

Ghost Bodyguard during Winter Solstice, Dongji Patjuk

19 Oct

Patjuk is red bean soup and is cooked during winter solstice (Dongji in Korean) when the length of daylight is at its shortest and nighttime at its longest. Traditionally, Patjuk has been prepared to prevent bad luck and shared with neighbors on the Korean traditional holiday (Dongjinal) on December 22. Korean people usually eat Donji Patjuk with Saealsim, which looks like a small bird’s ball, which is made of sticky flour.

According to Chinese mythological stories handed down, once upon a time, there was a man called Gong Gong. He had a spoiled son who had a cruel temper. After his son died, he became a ghost of epidemic disease and many people died due to the epidemic disease. While Gong Gong tried to figure out how to prevent the disease, he remembered that while his son was alive, his son hated ‘red bean soup’. He made Patjuk and shared with his neighborhood. Because of this myth, Korean people have made Patjuk as well as scattered it in the kitchen, yard, gate, and storage to drive ghosts away. In old Korean tradition, the red color represents a positive energy, which can ward off bad luck, epidemic disease, and evil spirits. The story behind the custom of Patjuk is believed to be a mythical food that drives evil spirits away; however, here it’s a logical ancient’s wisdom. Red beans are good for warming and replenishing the human body. Red Bean contains an abundant amount of vitamin B1 of all grains.

Patjuk is made of simple ingredients which includes a cup of red beans that are soaked overnight in water, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sweet/glutinous rice power, and 4-5 tablespoons of warm water. First, wash red beans thoroughly in cold water then soak the red beans in water for 2 to 3 hours. Then, drain the beans by keeping the water as well as discarding the left over skin, and add 3 cups of water. While boiling until they begin to soften, add sugar and a pinch of salt, and put the glutinous rice power. Stir altogether and leave red beans until they all become soft. For Saearshim, take the 2 cups of glutinous rice flour and make small round pieces approximately 1.5~2cm in size by using hot water and salt and circling them in one’s palms. Put the rice balls in boiling salt water for 5 to 6 minutes until the small pieces float to the surface. At the end, mix up the red bean soup and rice balls (Saearshim) together and serve it warm. Overall, Patjuk is a traditional dish served during the winter days that not only expels evil spirits, but also warms the souls of the neighbors with a healthy and hearty bowl of red bean soup.

The Mythical Burgers

19 Oct

In the movie Harold and Kumar the White Castle hamburger represents the liberation of both Harold and Kumar from their respective oppressive lives. Kumar’s destiny is set by his father to become a doctor, while Harold works in a boring 9 – 5 job where his co-workers exploit him to do extra work on the weekends. Both being frustrated with their lives, decide one Friday night to go out and get White Castle burgers. As they embark on their night – long adventure in their quest of the burgers the entire time the burger represents their freedom. Both Harold and Kumar must go through a series of challenges as they try and reach their ultimate goal. The entire movie, the White Castle is characterized as being like this mythical place to which they may or may not ever reach. Their journey parallels those of mythical heroes in all cultures, for example Ram in the Ramayana, an Indian legend.

When Harold and Kumar finally reach White Castle in the morning they have both achieved more than they ever have in their lives. They have faced near-death scenarios in reaching their final destinations. The representation of the burger in Harold and Kumar differs from the mythical food in Momotaro’s legend in that; in the Japanese legend the millet dumplings are what enable Momotaro and the animals to conquer the ogres. In the movie, the burger represents the end of the journey, rather than the catalyst to it.


American Myths

19 Oct

Throughout American culture, there are thousands of stories that have been told through numerous mediums. In modern America, we pass stories via written word, visual interpretation, and word of mouth. One common thing that appears in almost all stories is food. In American stories, one food consistently show is turkey. It is involved in many ceremonial meals and is depicted as the most important part of the meal on many occasions. Turkey is certainly one of the most consistently seen foods in all of America’s folklore.

In many stories, turkey is the main course for large sit-down dinners. If a character is bringing over a future spouse, husband or wife, the major dinner confrontation always includes some large, extravagant meal. Many times, this meal is centered around a giant turkey. In some stories the turkey can actually be involved in major story altering events. An example of a story like this can be seen in many TV shows in which a character, often a mother figure, is preparing a large meal for family or friends and through some misfortune the turkey burns, causing the character to have an explosion of emotion, often breaking down. Additionally, turkey is almost always the main course for large dinners in holiday stories, specifically movies. Family meals are important in American culture, especially during holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. When these feasts are depicted, they often include turkey, the staple of American feasts.

American stories feature turkey because turkey is what the land originally provided to Americans. This can be seen in many other cultures, an example of which would be rice in Asian story telling. The presence of food in these stories is merely another piece of the setting of the story. It is just another factor used to indicate what the environment is really like.

Food for All Senses

4 Oct

When we think of food, our stomachs growl and taste buds begin to water.  Motojiro, in “Lemon,” however, is able to find satisfaction with a fruit that he purchases without even consuming it.  He lifts the lemon to his nose and enjoys its scent, then remarks at how it feels as a weight in his hand, and finally tops off his castle of books with it, possibly in appreciation of its natural beauty, balance, and organic form.

The closest I may remember of having come to a magical “meal” like Motojiro’s may be the oranges and apples my grandmother places on the shrine ever two weeks.  These are not magical strictly in the spiritual gifting sense, but also as a form of interior decoration that absorbs space in the living room.  That altar would definitely feel empty and lacking if my younger sisters took the oranges for lunch and did not replace them.

In a practice drawing session I conjured a plate of plums for myself and a friend to sketch.  Where we differed from Motojiro, unfortunately, was that we had the intention of eating the plums after we were finished using them for an alternate purpose.  Nothing shines and reflects light like a freshly picked, juicy, purple plum.  And as we observed the mountain of plums, each one was appeared different in a stack of glowing purple orbs.  sahdows from one falling onto the other; they “absorbed the colors” of the environment they were in:

“As I stood back to take a look, I realized the lemon was quietly absorbing the melody of the jumbled colors into its spindle-shaped self.”  (Motojiro 339)

And who can’t recall a still life that they’ve seen in which the fruit seemed full of life and magic?

Mysticism in Thailand

29 Sep

In the Gourmet Club, Tanazaki illustrates the power and splendor of food as having magical qualities: “Not only after a splendid meal, but even at the moment they all gathered around a table piled high with delicious things, they felt the same kind of excitement, the same rapture one does on hearing the finest orchestral music” (99). His describes magical food as having the ability to take over one’s body and encapsulate all the senses.

In one scene of the story, a member of the food club suggests they have some “good soft- shelled turtle soup.” The members reacted to the suggestion with great enthusiasm, “and their eyes and faces took on a curious shine… a wild, degraded look, like that of the hungry ghosts of Buddhists lore” (101). This reminded me of how my sister and I reacted to my father’s suggestion to try shark fin soup and seahorse soup at lunch in Thailand. We never thought of consuming either of these special sea creatures before and the idea was extremely exotic to us. My sister ordered the seahorse soup and I ordered the shark fin soup, and we agreed to share both. The first taste of the soup to my lips was euphoric and the sensation spread throughout my entire body. I glanced over at my sister and saw that she was having a similar experience. We soon elected to trade, and it was my turn to try seahorse! Both soups were extremely tasty but I was more taken by the exotisicm of these dishes. The soups had a sort of mystical effect that was like what Tanazaki illustrates in the story. Having dined in many different countries across several continents, after this meal I was able to conclude that Asian cuisine is certainly the most outlandish and risky. This type of cuisine is ideal in demonstrating the mysterious and exotic effect food may have—which I vividly recall feeling when trying shark fin and seahorse for the first time.

The Lure of “Magical” Food

28 Sep

Through the character of Count G, Tanizaki presents the reader with the strangely provocative allure of “magical” food. Beyond the simplicity and transience of regular food, the experience of exotic “magical” food transcends all other worldly experience and uses the senses of smell, sight, touch, and taste. Count G and the other members of the Gourment Club are fascinated with this magical Chinese food to the point where it becomes an obsession. Though “magical” food is not necessarily Chinese, it always is characterized by some kind of exoticism. Moreover, magical food possesses a kind of enigmatic incomprehensibility that requires time and effort to understand, but in the process, it is easy to become drawn into the continual cycle of addiction. This is what happens to Count G, who whether “asleep or awake, saw only dreams of food…” (Tanizaki, The Gourmet Club, 104). The lure of “magical” food is similar to the lure of the unknown “exotic” that draws the hero to his or her doom in every story and movie.

For example, the Grimms Brothers’ fable Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tells the story of a young girl, Snow White, who is tempted by a “magical” red apple that is so different from anything she has ever seen that she must eat it, despite her suspicions of the old woman who gives it to her. The apple ultimately poisons her, but the weak resolve on Snow White’s part is no different the weak resolve of Count G when he comes across new and mysterious types of gourmet. Both characters are drawn by the temptation of “magical” food: in Snow White’s case, because it is enchanted to be so; for Count G, it is because the food has no kind of palpable “enchantment,” but rather an intangible one that is fueled by his obsession.

Rediscovering “Authentic Chinese”

28 Sep

When I hear of the words “magic” and “meal” together, I think of the Great Hall in the Harry Potter world, and how the dishes literally appear magically in front of the students’ eyes. However, Tanizaki’s “The Gourmet Club” focuses on the magic of Chinese food and a Chinese meal’s menu. It is not necessarily the presentation of the food itself that is magical, but how the food affects ones senses. A Chinese menu satisfies the eater’s sense of taste, sight, and smell all at once, all the while maintaining another sense of mystery.

Growing up as part of a very traditional Chinese family with first-generation parents has spoiled me. It was hard for me to get Chinese food at American restaurants; I could only be satisfied with what was “authentic Chinese food.” The many-course Chinese restaurant meal that was such a new experience for Count G was all too familiar to me. When I went to Hong Kong for the first time, as expected, most of the food tasted the same to me. It was only when I went to a small and hidden away dessert shop that I discovered a new magical “authentic Chinese” experience.

We found the dessert shop by luck, lured in by its cheap prices, cute mascots, and my huge sweet tooth. The shop served only dessert soups, like those commonly found at the end of the many-course Chinese restaurant meals. However, the desserts were not the usual red bean soup or tapioca milk. To give an idea, the one I ordered was a “simple” mango milk dessert. When I received my order, I was first hit by the smell of sweet mango. Upon my first spoonful, I experienced not just the taste of that mango, but a wonderful mixture of texture created by the mango chunks, milk, jelly, and tapioca that was in the soup that just melted together in my mouth. The oddest part was the aftertaste–it tasted of almonds. Suddenly, my “simple” order was not so simple anymore. I have long since forgotten the name of the shop, but someday I want to go back and try to “reverse engineer” that dessert. I wonder if that is even possible with this type of Chinese dessert.

Normal but Supernatural

28 Sep

Something that is magical is something that cannot be described with realistic logic. It is something that is supernatural, or can’t be described by normal human beings. In Tanazaki’s “Gourmet Club”, Tanazaki gives magic a whole different meaning. As we are introduced to the character Count G, discovers a Chinese “gourmet club” which was something he had never tasted before. Count G’s takes on food magic is the flavors of food that take over ones body as a whole.

My experience I believe is something truly magical no matter how many times that it occurs. I salivate just sitting here thinking about it. The sound of fries sizzling in the fryer and the sound of burgers on the grill. The smell of onions crackling on the grill. The red and white stripes and the view of palm trees. I walk up to the cashier  and order my Number 2 animal style with animal style fries and a Neapolitan shake.  Of course I am talking about the great burger joint, In-N-Out. I sit and wait for my number to be called and when it is I go into straight ecstasy. The touch of the warm bun on my hand. The crisp taste of lettuce and tomato. The sweet but salty taste of the grilled unions. The succulent delicacy of the secret sauce. It sets me in a world wind of magic. The taste of cheese and sauce on the fries. And the magical combination of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate. It is always truly magical.