Fake Foodie: An Expat's Shame
“Women Must Try To Do Things As Men Have Tried. When They Fail, Their Failure Must Be But A Challenge To Others~~Amelia Earhart
I love food. Love it. The only thing keeping me from being 400 pounds is sheer vanity and a love of fashion that discriminates against women a size 12 or higher. Otherwise, trust me, I would get my feed on every minute of the day.
Those who know of my love for all things epicurean might unhesitatingly label me a foodie. But here’s one of my shame secrets: I am not a foodie. Not even close. No matter how much I love checking out new restaurants (I even applied to be Timeout New York’s food columnist), trying new recipes, and am a person who will enthusiastically “try something at least once,” I am not one of those people who needs to know the etymology of each morsel on my plate. I have almost zero interest in the provenance of my steak or the certification of the soil my veggies were grown in. I know the difference between an heirloom tomato and a beefsteak, but just barely.
And as my stay in South Korean lengthens and deepens, I’ve begun to grapple with the realization that worse than not possessing a gourmand’s habits or curiosity, I am simply not up for anything, at least food-wise.
I actually began to suspect this around the time one of my oldest and dearest friends Chef Miguel Trinidad opened his first restaurant Maharlika NYC and then his second Jeepney. He’s a New York Dominican cooking traditional and modern Filipino food and is arguably one of the people who put that Southeast Asian country on the New York culinary map. And in the beginning, as he did popups and worked out the kinks before launching his own place, I attended as many events as I could to show support, gobbling up wonderfully tasty and exotic tidbits, raining praise on Fish Sauce and Longganisa Sausage.
When he cut the ribbon on his own restaurants, I was there, too, but this is when I began to notice that I wasn’t as adventurous as I thought, shying away from dishes like the Balut (fertilized duck egg) and Daing Na Bangus (crispy boneless baby milkfish) that are purported to be delicious but sounded a little hinky. And then I moved to Korea, bringing along my experiences with Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine, my Korea- Town forays, and ALL my Asian food stereotypes. And low and behold, it turns out, I had no idea what real Korean food is!
Before I decamped for the Asian Peninsula, people asked me repeatedly if I liked Korean food. Offended by the notion that I, a New Yorker, the one others came to for restaurant recommendations might not have a global palate, made me roll my eyes and declare, “Of course!” Hell, I had even turned lifelong New Yorkers onto K-Town BBQ! But here’s the thing…I might not have a global palate!
Broken Heart Emoji!
Hiding behind a lack of Hangug-eo (Korean language), intimidated by the many restaurants with menus written on the walls instead of a printed bill of fare, I have pretended for months that I stick to the basics---고기구이 (BBQ-meat roast), 비빔밥 (Bibimbap-a bowl of warm rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables, chili pepper paste, fermented soybean paste and a raw or fried egg, 만두 (Mandu-dumplings), and 양념 치킨 (Spicy Yangnyeom: fried chicken, ya’ll!) because they are all I desire---But the truth is a lot of Korean food freaks me out! It’s too real, and I’m just going to say it: too foreign.
The seafood tanks in grocery stores and street markets, as well as outside of random eateries with enormous live octopus and squid swimming about and living their best lives before being steamed or fried, and drenched in sauce makes me sad. The freakishly large prawns who look like alien bathing beauties doing their best Ester Williams impersonations almost have me off shrimp, and don’t get me started on 순대 (Sundae-Blood Sausage made from cow intestines). I am almost equally un-enthused over the wildly popular spicy rice cake Tteokbokki (떡볶이) that all the hip kids eat. It tastes like pieces of rubber slathered in SpaghettiOs gravy and makes me feel like I'm wasting precious calories better spent on a nice wedge of Camembert.
As I write this, I cringe and promise to do better. I refuse to be one of those expats who only eats Burger King or becomes positively orgasmic when a western style venue opens. I’m not going down like that. I’ve obtained a Korean cook book of simple recipes to tackle on the weekends, and I’ve committed to trying at least one new Korean dish and restaurant a month. There are tons of mysterious little holes-in-the-wall with someone’s granny behind the rice cooker all around my neighborhood which beckon.
And I’m excited. I swear I am, but I will confess, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner the International English Church threw for foreigners with real ham, mash potatoes and gravy, corn, and warm, pillow-y rolls brought a tear to my eye. Just kidding, but it was tasty. I am excited, excited to challenge myself, to step out of my culinary comfort zone. Hopefully I’ll stumble upon the Korean version of Duck Confit. Sadly, even if I am so lucky, my chopstick wielding game might finally be en pointe, but I still wouldn't last a day on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”
Teardrop Shame Emoji
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in the New Year when I land in a new country and survive new shenanigans!
Remember, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!