Friday, July 31, 2009

Get off the couch and into the kitchen to lose weight

Michaell Pollan wrote a The New York Times Magazine article today (published in print Aug. 2) called "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch."

The questions presented and answered in the eight-page article include:
  • Is there a connection between the increasing popularity of cooking shows on TV and the increased popularity of convenience foods?
  • Do they play off each other to the American public's benefit or detriment?
  • Is this reflected in the increase in obesity in America?
  • Is there a solution if such a connection exists?
It got me to thinking about a conversation I had with one of my co-workers about five years ago when we made the move from working in an office environment to working from home. She was lamenting the move because working from home meant she would have access to her refrigerator and pantry to eat anything she wanted, anytime.

I told her, "If you have healthy food in your home, healthy food goes into your body and it shouldn't be an issue." Her excuse was that with young children in the house items like Oreo's, potato chips, etc., were "must have" items in her home.

Well, over the years both of us have struggled a bit with our weight, but my struggles (wanting to exercise) pale in comparison to hers. I keep my refrigerator and pantry relatively free of junk food, and I have lost over 30 pounds since I started working from home.

Also, since I enjoy cooking, I try to make a home-cooked meal nearly every evening. On those days I don't have time, McDonald's is not an option to alleviate our hunger.

Pollan makes an interesting point (emphasis mine):
A 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David Cutler … and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home.

They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake.

Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity.
In a comedic coincidence, I'm writing this commentary as I'm eating a bowl of Bibimmyeon, one of the ultimate fattening Korean convenience foods. If you eat the entire packet, properly cooked, by yourself (which most people do), you consume 550 calories.

So, how can Americans (and people worldwide) learn to appreciate their food and lose weight at the same time? In an ideal world, Americans might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of industrially prepared food has done to our health by cooking their own meals rather than watching other people do so on TV. If there's one thing that Julia Child taught aspiring cooks everywhere over the years is, "Practice makes perfect."

So, what is the perfect diet? Pollan quoted this suggestion from food trend tracker Harry Balzer of The NPD Group:
“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The "secret" to making the kalbi video

Most recipes for kalbi (Korean beef ribs) currently published use Western substitutes for pear juice such as corn syrup; apple, kiwi or pineapple juice; or a sweet lemon-lime soft drink such as Sprite. I decided to go "old-school" in my kalbi video, going back to basics because Americans in most areas of the country have access to Korean pears.

However, Korean pears are a seasonal fruit, especially if you're a bit of a purist like me and prefer to buy the pears from Korea. What do I do in the spring and summer when Korean pears are lacking? I buy the little cans of pear juice from the Korean grocery store. They're approximately 8 ounces (236 ml) and have the perfect amount of juice for my marinade. It's a little more liquid than the grated pear I usually use, but the flavor is still there. That's the important thing.

Here's a little video-continuity secret. For the most part, it was recorded in the order it is shown. However, we captured the pouting-over-the-cookbooks scene immediately before I started cooking, so all the dialogues before the cooking sequence were filmed first. I forgot to my glasses them off while I was grilling the ribs. There's a brief point at 3:53 at which you can see glasses.

I don't wear my glasses in my videos because we use a lot of lighting. It is difficult to compensate for the glare on the lenses, so it's easier not to wear glasses on camera. I only need them for reading books or a computer screen anyway. However, I thought my glasses would add an honest, studious touch to that little vignette, so I wore them.

Korean Kalbi on Foodista

Photo credit: Jeff Quackenbush, 2008

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ku soju review

Ku Soju Original (SnoothRank: 3/5) (July 2009) My husband dismissively calls soju "sweetened rubbing alcohol," but I can't imagine eating Korean food without it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary simply calls soju "Korean vodka." It is a distilled alcoholic beverage traditionally made with rice but more commonly made with sweet potato, barley, wheat, or tapioca. Soju has an alcohol content of 20%–45% by volume. The soju sold in American markets is usually on the lower end of that scale to fit the legal requirement to be sold as "wine." Soju is an acquired taste, but Ku makes it an easily acquired taste. It's light, crisp and sweet (but not too sweet). Soju is a good substitute for vodka, which is why it's becoming popular on the cocktail circuit. It isn't the only soju on the market and it's not the cheapest either, but it's certainly worth trying with your next Korean meal. MyRating: 4/5

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Korea Times: Foreign Foodies Generate Strong Following

The Korea Times published an article today about the growing popularity of food blogging, particularly what they call "foreigner food blogging culture." The article features the three main Korean ex-pat food blogs: Zen Kimchi by Joe McPherson, Seoul Eats by Dave Gray and FatmanSeoul by Jennifer Flinn. All three of these blogs are based in South Korea and discuss the Korean food scene through the eyes of ex-pats. They review restaurants, discuss Korean foods, as well as develop and post their own Korean fusion recipes (such as "How do I make Bread Pudding with ingredients I can find in Seoul without going to the the black market?"). They also encourage ex-pats living in the ROK to get out of their comfort zone and explore Korea's growing food scene. The Korea Times article hints at a paradox: a blog can be a more permanent source of information about a restaurant, favorite recipe, etc., than a printed newspaper or magazine.
(Daniel) Gray, who also writes for Groove magazine, believes online food reviews are more lasting than printed ones. They are not only physically durable but easily accessible.
It has taken the traditional print media giants nearly 10 years to come to this realization. Blogs can be searched 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information is accessible when it's convenient for the reader. Word searches easily call up topic-driven content. Most bloggers do not take down a post once it's published, so older content is easy to find (and update). California-based publications appear to be at the forefront of this trend. The North Bay Business Journal, a business paper based in Sonoma County, Calif., has made the switch to a Web-based model, in which it publishes mostly on the Web first and in print later. One might say that a smaller paper, such as the NBBJ, can be more agile because of its size. Yet the LA Times, which is one of the largest papers in the U.S., has also changed its format to a web based format. The Times' primary focus is on their website content, and published hard-copies are almost an after-thought. The "mainstream media" can learn a lesson or two from established bloggers and smaller media outlets about how to maintain an audience on the Web as people are transitioning away from the printed page to the pixelated page.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Too few old trees in Korea

On July 24, the Chosun Ilbo reported, "Korea's Oldest National Tree Found in Gangneung," which is on the northeastern coast of South Korea in Gangwon province. The town is best-known as the birthplace of Confucian scholar Yulgok (1536-1584 C.E.), whose image graces the 5,000 won note, and his mother, Saimdang (1504-1551), whose image graces the newly introduced 50,000 won note.

Gangneung's most recent claim to fame is being home to the oldest Rose of Sharon or mugunghwa tree in the country. According to the experts, the tree is 90-100 years old. Since mugunghwa trees normally only live 20-40 years, that feat is noteworthy on its own. However, what makes this tree inspiring to many Koreans is the fact there aren't many old trees of any kind in Korea. As the Chosun Ilbo notes,
It is hard to find old mugunghwa trees in the country, because most of the indigenous specimens were damaged as part of the Japanese colonial government's policy of obliterating the spirit of the Korean nation. Only three 60-year-old protected mugunghwa trees exist throughout the country.
If you find that hard to believe, here are a couple of pictures from Chuncheon in 1996. These photos were taking on Bongui-san in Chuncheon above Gangwon-do's provincial hall. The skinny trees in these photos are typical of much of Korea's landscape even today. Most of these trees were less than 50 years old.

Gangneung is also known for the "Gangneung submarine infiltration incident." On Sept. 18, 1996, a North Korean spy submarine ran aground while attempting to retrieve about a dozen spies who had been dropped off a few days before. This incident sparked a 49-day manhunt throughout Gangwon province. I remember that a little too well.

My fellow teachers and I had planned a trip to Sorak Mountain National Park for the the Chusok fall harvest holiday. Our route would take us from Chuncheon, the provincial capital of Gangwon, along a winding (and frightening) mountainous route to Gangneung then north to Sokcho.

Korean military were swarming around the northeastern coastal area, though we observed a number of residents of Sokcho ignoring the 10 p.m. curfew. I think the fact that those around us were calm helped us stay calm as well.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

North Korea opens fast food restaurant in Pyongyang

The Choson Sinbo reports that the reclusive North Korean government is opening a fast food restaurant in Pyongyang. This could be funny, except that this pseudo-western restaurant is going out of its way to pretend that it's not a pseudo-western restaurant. Samtaeseong's menu will be difficult for western tourists to interpret since they changed the name of the iconic hamburger to "minced beef with bread". All the western style menu items will be given Korean names so the North Korean government can pretend they are free of outside influence while they unabashedly accept food handouts from South Korea, Japan, the USA and other outsiders. The Dong-A Ilbo elaborates:
The menu offers diced “minced beef and bread (hamburger),” “baked and frizzled bread (waffle), minced flatfish and bread, vegetables and bread, and a meal of mixed foods including minced beef, bread, potato porridge and kimchi. Beverages include soda and “Kumkang fresh beer.”
Another point, fast food is supposed to be cheap food, yet according to the Choson Sinbo article, the "minced beef with bread" dish costs $1.70, which is 50% of the take-home pay of the average North Korean. Or as the Associated Press (AP) said,
The minced beef and bread at the new fast-food restaurant costs only $1.70, the newspaper said, but that would eat up more than half of the average North Korean's daily income. South Korea's central bank put last year's average per capita income at $1,065.
Think of it another way. The average American makes approximately $24 per hour, or $50,000 per year (based on an 8 hour work day). Would any American in his right mind pay $96 for a basic hamburger? Yet, that's what this restaurant is asking its patrons. Of course, the well-off Pyongyang-ites will pay up for the sake of their Dear Leader, wouldn't they? However, there seems to be a discrepancy here. The Dong-A Ilbo's coverage of this same restaurant indicates the menu is more reasonably priced (at least officially).

Prices there are said to be affordable. A hamburger costs 190 won (15 U.S. cents) and a glass of beer 76 won (six cents), cheap given that a kilogram of rice costs 1,900 won (15 dollars) in North Korea.

Despite its affordability, the restaurant is inaccessible by most North Koreans because an admission ticket is needed to enter. Such tickets are being traded on the black market at prices higher than face value.

Did the AP article factor in the price of the admission ticket into its calculation of the costs of the meal? If so, that's fair but they should point that out in their article. The Dong-A Ilbo goes on to say,
Since only those with deep pockets can keep eating out, however, such restaurants have become a symbol of the gap between the haves and have nots.
I thought the point of a communist society was to eliminate distinctions in class and income? Sounds like Animal Farm all over again.
All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chicken soup (Samgyetang) as summer food?

The July 18, 2009, edition of the JoongAng Ilbo wrote a feature article about the health benefits of eating chicken soup during the hottest summer months. Chubok, as I mentioned in this post, is considered the hottest month of the year in Korea's lunar calendar. In traditional Korean medicine, it is recommended that one eat very hot food during the summer and cold food during the winter. This is the opposite of how most Westerners relate to food. We prefer to reach for ice cream in the summer and chicken soup in the winter. The author of the JoongAng Ilbo article understands the confusion but points out,
... Samgyetang (chicken soup) is said to give you the energy, strength and health you need to endure the heat, replacing the nutrients you sweat out under the blazing sun.
When I arrived in Korea in late August 1996, my first meal in Seoul was a blazing hot bowl of dolsot bibimbap (rice with mixed veggies and egg served in a 500 degree Fahrenheit lava rock bowl). The temperature was more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the percentage of humidity was probably higher. Still suffering from jet lag, I wasn't in the best of moods. A cold glass of lemon iced tea would have been preferred. Since I was with a large group of similarly jet-lagged people, I minded my manners (i.e., kept my snippy comments to myself). My bowl from the blast furnace arrived first, so I started to stir the contents of my bowl, waiting for the others to be served. One of the ajumas (Korean for "aunt" but a generic term for older women who are in service roles) came over and squeezed out a big puddle of gochujang (Korean pepper paste) on top of my bowl of bibimbap. (I'm sure our American host asked her to give us such a "baptism by fire.") Most of our group wasn't prepared for that, but my time in Thailand several years prior prepared me for spicy-hot food. But the heat emanating from the glowing hot bowl was almost enough to make me faint. Learn how to make your own version of Korea's famous samgyetang from this YouTube video by Anna Kim of the Koreancuisine YouTube channel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How an American ex-pat adopts a Korean hometown

Anyone who has spent any amount of time eating, sleeping, working and living in Korea grows to love and adore the place, even if you find some aspects of Korea annoying, frustrating or downright awful. South Korea is a country you will never forget. To commemorate where you came from, consider checking out DosBesitos. The shop owner describes the store as
an Etsy store featuring domestic and international adoption related jewelry, magnets, paper weights, and key chains, as well as items in many different languages.
In April, I had a pendant custom-made with a map of Chuncheon, my Korean "hometown." When the order arrived, it came with a matching tin as well. Too cute! Whether you're "from" Seoul, Daejin, Chuncheon, Kwangju, Wonju, Daegu, Busan, Incheon or anywhere in between, this artwork can help you express your love for your Korean "hometown."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carried away with tea

If you're one of those people who dislikes the generic black or green tea served in most restaurants, you probably carry your own teabags with you (or have been tempted to do so). The outgoing, do-it-yourself types boldly ask the waitress for a mug of hot water and are not shy about using their own tea. Those who are more shy or polite resist temptation and either order a Diet Coke or suffer through a bland cup of tea. What can discerning foodies do to protect their taste buds from boring tea? If this description fits you, take a look at this Asian-style tea wallet at
Carry around your favorite tea packets in this pretty little tea wallet. Sewn up in a fun print of black and red Asian characters and lined with coordinating fabrics, this makes for a pretty presentation of your teas while protecting them in the bottom of your purse! A hand-covered button is attached for closure.
I bought one similar to this for my step-mother-in-law, and she liked the fact it protected her favorite teabags from the chaos of her purse.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kimchi in the News: Freeze-dried Kimchi

The LA Times posted an article called South Korean creates kimchi that won't smell. It appears that making space kimchi wasn't challenging enough so now Koreans have come up with an even more difficult task--deodorized kimchi. Many foreigners dislike the smell of kimchi but even Koreans get annoyed by it on occasion.
Even in South Korea there's a social no-no known as kimchi breath -- the whiff of cabbage seasoned and fermented in chili, garlic and ginger that can send listeners reaching for their handkerchiefs....Most South Korean households have a special kimchi refrigerator to keep the odor from contaminating other foods.
Kim Soon-ja, Korea's kimchi master, was inspired to develop a kimchi that doesn't have an odor. That's a pretty ambitious undertaking since kimchi is loaded with ginger, garlic, onions and red pepper paste as well as optional anchovy or shrimp paste. Those items are pungent before fermentation.

Yet in a nation that has set a goal of establishing its cuisine as among the world's five most popular by 2017, kimchi's odor has always been a stumbling block. According to a survey by the Seoul-based Corea Image Communication Institute, the unique smell of Korean food is the biggest barrier to globalizing the cuisine.

According to the LA Times, Ms. Kim has secured a patent for her development and is working on mass producing her kimchi for the foreign market. Maybe Bae Yong Joon might place an order for his Korean restaurant in Japan.

Kimchi on Foodista

Kimchi in the News: Gwangu hosts Kimchi Festival

Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, will host the 16th Annual Kimchi Festival from Oct. 23 to Nov. 1. 2009 at the Gwangju World Cup Stadium and the surrounding vicinity. The Korean Tourism Organization says,
The Gwangju Kimchi Festival is all about kimchi - Korea’s most representative food. There is a program to sample kimchi with foods that go well with it and a buffet serving kimchi and the local foods of Gwangju. Visitors can also take part in kimchi making.
If you want to fly into Gwangju for the event,
there is a free shuttle bus leaving from Gwangju Airport and Gwangju station every day during the festival. The shuttle bus operates 5 to 6 times a day. Major events include cooking with kimchi, gayageum performance, kimchi making with international visitors, hanbok fashion show, kimchi concert, folk games, and kimchi printing.
Because of the popularity of Gwangju-style kimchi, the South Korean government is also setting up a Kimchi Institute in Gwangju as well. The purpose of the institute is to
focus on globalizing kimchi through expanding research on the nutritional and cultural merits of kimchi and other fermented dishes.
For more information about Gwangju's Kimchi Festival "Say Kimchi" here. For more information about the Kimchi Institute, check out The Korea Times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Earth Day everyday from Etsy, Starbucks and Bae Yong Joon

Back in April 2009, Bae Yong Joon and some of his fellow Korean actors posed for a spread in the May 2009 edition of Korea's Cosmopolitan magazine called "Kick the Habit". The stars donated the money they'd normally make on their modeling fees to the UNEP (U.N. Environmental Project) Korean Committee.

This got me thinking about how frugality and "being green" can work hand-in-hand to encourage a "waste not, want not" culture.

Here are several of ideas I implemented to make my life "greener" and keep more "green" in my own pocket.

Bagel Creations, a shop based in Chico, Calif., developed The Chico Cozy ™. What is that?! It's a reusable coffee cup sleeve. Why would you want one? To keep the paper coffee cup sleeves out of the landfills? You can also hide the fact you bought your cup of no foam, non-whip, sugar free Tall whatchamacallit coffee from McDonald's instead of Starbucks.

At the coffee shop and forgot your travel mug, but still want to be green? Use a coffee cozy and skip the cardboard sleeve! These coffee cozies are super cute and are lined with Insul Bright to keep your coffee hot and keep your hand from being scorched.
They have a lot of design options. The one in the photo is called " Geisha Fans in Olive" but there are designs on the site for any personality.

My second idea is courtesy of (speak of the devil) Starbucks. Even though I don't drink coffee (ever), I love tea so I bought one of their tumblers that has a customizable inner sleeve.

I bought several of these customizable tumblers and made some Bae Yong Joon tumblers (Kamsamnida to Photoshop) for several friends of mine. They turned out very nice and I use my BYJ tumbler ever day (to hide my addiction to Monster Lo-carb energy drink).

One of my favorite "environmentally friendly" purchases is my reusable canteen from Sigg. Now that we know that drinking bottled water from certain types of plastic bottles is unhealthy, these reusable canteens are even more popular. I use mine every time I work out. I fill it up with Propel (and filtered water), put it in the fridge and take it out when I'm ready to work out. After the workout, I refill it and put it back in the fridge for the next time.

Some of the perks of the Sigg version include the following (according to their website):

  • Extruded from a single piece of pure aluminium, no seams
  • Highest stability with lowest weight
  • Rich colors achieved with a solvent-free coating powder
  • 100% recyclable (Aluminium)
These are just a few examples of how you can be "frugal" and "green" at the same time. If you need more inspiration to be frugal and green at the same time, check out this blog, called "It's Frugal Being Green".

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cookbook recommendation: Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History by Michael J. Pettid

I have been asked to recommend books on Korean history, cuisine and cookery from time to time. I don't own many Korean cookbooks because, in my opinion, most of them publish the same basic recipes such as bulgogi, kalbi and kimchi.

The repetition can be mind-numbing, especially if you already know the basics of Korean food and want to branch out and learn something new. I have become pretty picky about which cookbooks I buy with my limited budget.

The kind of cookbooks I love to read over and over again are the cookbooks that give you the history of a recipe as well as the how-to. Because there are so many Korean cookbooks out there, I decided several years ago that my "holy grail" of Korean cuisine books would be the first book I found that had a recipe for Chuncheon dakkalbi.

Chuncheon is a relatively small city by Korean standards, with about 250,000 people. It's the provincial capital of Gangwon province, a rural region in northeastern South Korea relatively unknown outside of Asia. Chuncheon dakkalbi isn't a recipe the general public wanting to make Korean food for the first time would demand or miss.

I found what I was looking for in Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History by Michael J. Pettid, assistant professor of Korean and Korean Literature in the Department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages at State University of New York in Binghamton.

I knew I had found a book that endeavored to explain and discuss all the cuisine of Korea, not just the big-city cuisine of Seoul, Busan and Pyongyang. That makes it worth every penny and it holds a special place in my Korean culture library.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Essentials for a Korean pantry

On occasion, my YouTube video viewers have asked me what spices and condiments are essential for a Korean pantry. Here are the top 8 essential, can't make Korean food without it pantry items:
  • Gochujang (Korean fermented red pepper paste)
  • Doenjang (Korean miso)
  • Cham girum (Sesame seed oil)
  • Cham ke (Roasted Sesame seeds)
  • Kook ganjang (Korean soy sauce)
  • Garlic
  • Ginsing
Some other important items to have on hand include (in no particular order):
  • Rice
  • Green onions
  • Daikon radish
  • Gochu powder (red pepper powder) New Mexico chili powder is a good substitute
  • Kim/Nori (seaweed wraps)
  • Asian pears (in season in the Fall/Winter)
Hope these tips help you embark upon your own Koreafornia food adventure.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pentagon Channel features military chef competition

National Public Radio recently aired an episode about the Pentagon Channel's cooking show called The Grill Sergents. The show is currently in its third season. According to the Pentagon Channel website:
The Grill a weekly, half-hour cooking show featuring some of the military's top chefs as they guide viewers through step-by-step menu preparation, along with important nutrition and food safety tips.
The current season is filming at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Sgt. First Class Brad Turner is the star of the show and, according to NPR, started his military chef career at Fort Dix, N.J. before serving his first tour in Korea. Now it appears he's going to put his time in Korea to good use. NPR says,
The eight new episodes they are filming for the fall season are focused on a different country's cuisine. On a recent day, they were cooking Indian, Korean and Mexican cuisines.
The Grill Sergeants airs every Monday at 1200 ET. How can you get the Pentagon channel on your TV if you live in the USA? According to the Pentagon Channel website,
The Pentagon Channel is free, in the public domain, and accessible 24/7 to all U.S. cable and satellite providers. There is no charge asked or required to provide this valuable service to your military audience. Since the Pentagon Channel is produced by a U.S. Government organization, it cannot be referenced or used in any manner that may be considered an endorsement or a perceived endorsement of any product or service.
There are a couple of other ways to get your federally funded cooking show fix as well.
  1. Get your Pentagon Channel fix via YouTube.
  2. The first and second seasons are online at the Pentagon Channel website either in podcast form or watch them on the website.

Friday, July 17, 2009

LA move over, Portland, Ore. has a Korean taco truck, too!!!

Just as the Battle of the Korean Taco has calmed down in LA, another Korean taco truck is in the news, this time in Portland, Ore. FOX TV 12 in Portland reports "Food Truck's Tweets Tell Location". Koi Fusion PDX uses Twitter to update their 1600 + fans of their daily truck route.
Owner Bo Kwon said Twitter is much more than a Web site for his business. "It's become the backbone of how we've become successful," Kwon said. "I'd say 80 percent of my follow-up business has really been from Twitter."
Their current fan base is much smaller than Kogi's 36,000 + fans but considering the fact that Koi Fusion PDX has only been on Twitter a couple of months, it sounds good to me. For those of you who live in Portland or planning to visit there soon, sign up for Koi Fusion Twitter PDX .

Korean taco wars heat up

The Wall Street Journal posted a blog about a possible trademark fight between large, mega-restaurant Baja Fresh and the up-and-coming Korean taco truck sensation, Kogi. It appears they picked up the story from the Orange County Mexican Restaurants blog. What's the problem? Well, according to the WSJ, last month Baja Fresh market-tested a Korean-style taco at one of its restaurants in Orange County. Baja Fresh is tentatively calling their new creation “the Baja Kogi taco", which appears to be in direct competition with the popular LA Taco truck sensation. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery however, there's a fine line between imitation and duplication and some wonder if Baja Fresh might have crossed that line. As the WSJ blog points out,
Research and development staff from the chain did sample the tacos at the Kogi truck, but didn’t copy the recipe, Mr. Rink says. It created its own Korean taco using steak and chicken.
Stella, a commentor on the WSJ blog said,
“kimchi slaw and sesame salsa roja” never heard of that being inside of a taco until Chef Roy created it. They could have at least named it something else.
If this is the case, this trademark battle could really heat up if Baja Fresh doesn't make some significant changes to their new Korean fusion creation before they market it nationwide. UPDATE: According to the OC Register, Baja Fresh is planning to change the name of their Korean tacos from Kogi to Gogi. Here's a quote from Baja Fresh's PR man.

Rather, we were under the impression that “Kogi” was the generic word for Korean BBQ style. We have since learned “Gogi” is the general word and will be moving to change our naming to Gogi, for the Irvine store, and for any future roll outs of these products.

We admire greatly the success and popularity of the food items from the Kogi taco truck, and Korean BBQ style food overall.

Viva La Korean food!

Bae Yong Joon: My New Necklace

Ever since I saw hallyu star Bae Yong Joon wearing this necklace, I have wanted to try to make it "my way". Why go through all that work? Why not buy the original? The original (a Louis Morais 'Rockstar' necklace) costs about $4500—too rich for my wallet. What can a frugal Bae-girl to do? I went to, which calls itself an "online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade". Their motto is "Buy, Sell and Live Handmade" so I knew whatever I found there would be high-quality, artisan and totally unique. The original necklace is sterling silver and boasts a combination of a simple cross with small diamonds, a skull pendant and a silver fence post pendant (also covered with diamonds) which makes the resulting necklace delicate yet masculine all at the same time. Well, I don't have a budget for that many diamonds. That is the first difference between my version vs. the original. Here's the list of the pendants in my design.
  1. I purchased the cross pendant at an etsy store called Tangle, based in Portland, Ore. I bought this design. I wanted some visually interesting (in lieu of diamonds). I like the twisted wire around the cross. It vaguely reminded me of the crown of thorns which were twisted around Jesus' head before He was crucified. That symbolism is very meaningful to me.
  2. I didn't like the skull in the original (too gothic for me) so I opted for a simple ball of fine twisted silver thread instead, which I found at an Etsy store called Thai Closet, based in Bangkok, Thailand. It looks somewhat like a miniature ball of yarn. Why did I want a pendant that looked like a ball of yarn?! Mark Gungor, a popular Christian marriage counselor/comedian discusses the differences between men's brains and women's brains. Gungor calls women's brains "a big ball of wire". Watch the 5 minute clip here to see what I mean.
  3. The original fence post pendant is also covered with diamonds. I don't have that kind of budget but I wanted a unique, one-of-a-kind item. My substitute was an Inscribed Fence Post pendant. I commissioned from a shop called bddesigns, which is based near Toledo, Ohio. Since I am a Christian, I had the phrase "Jesus died once for all" inscribed on the pendant. It also came with a free 18 inch sterling silver chain as well. Since it was custom-made to my specifications, it took about a month from order to doorstep.
I ordered all three items at the same time yet the item from Bangkok arrived first. I had to wait patiently for my custom-made fence post pendant but my patience was rewarded. Now I have a charming, sentimental, custom-designed necklace. How much did this cost me (including S/H charges)? I paid $70.53, which is a savings of $4429.47.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Korea attracts Muslim toursts

An article recently published in the Korea Times said Korea is working hard to welcome an increasing number of tourists from Muslim countries. Most of them are attracted to Korea after discovering Korea's charms by watching such popular Korean TV dramas such as Winter Sonata, Jumong, Jewel in the Palace, Goong, and Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi/The Legend on local TV. However, the lack of halal restaurants outside of major populations centers like Seoul and Busan is hampering Korea's attempts to be hospitable hosts to their Muslim visitors. What are they doing about it?
To cope with the food trouble, the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) held a sampling party of a Halal food lunchbox. ``It is `Korea-style Halal' lunchbox. As ordinary Korean restaurants do not offer Halal meat, it was not easy for Muslim visitors to try Korean foods like `bulgogi,' which they learned about through Korean movies and dramas. So, the lunchbox was designed to provide Muslim travelers with Halal food and to publicize Korean food at the same time,'' Joo Sung-hee, a KTO manager, said.
Mr. Joo also mentioned the lack of prayer facilities are also an obstacle in attracting Muslim visitors to Korea. He mentioned several popular tourist attractions that currently offer prayer room facilities for Muslim visitors, including Everland, the Korean Tourism Office and Nami Island. What's the point? Why bother trying to attract Muslim tourists? Money and cultural exchange, of course.
``We believe the Muslim market with a 1.3 billion population has good potential. We hope the lecture and the programs we offered today will help attract more Muslim travelers,'' Joo said.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The "Dog Days" of Summer: Dog Meat in Korea

I don't need a calendar to know it's summer. I know it's summer time when newspapers and blogs worldwide start discussing, analyzing and criticizing Korea's history and ongoing medicinal consumption of boshintang (dog meat soup). A blogger for the LA Times newspaper posted a blog about the ongoing debate in South Korea over the consumption of dog meat. Members of a South Korean animal rights group called Coexistence for Animal Rights on Earth along with an American animal rights group called In Defense of Animals (IDA), sponsored a protest asking the South Korean government to make the killing of dogs and cats for food illegal and to vigorously enforce laws already on the books against the practice. According to the IDA's website, the IDA organized simultaneous protests at Korean embassies and consulates all over the United States, including the Korean consulate in San Francisco. I did notice that the Korean consulate in Anchorage appears to have escaped their ire (for now). Considering the fact that only 20 people showed up for the protest in Seoul, I doubt the protests in San Francisco or other areas were much larger. I was curious to see if any of the Korean media have covered this issue today and found this article in the Korea Times about a concert which was held in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province (near Daegu), where dogs were the pampered guests of honor rather than the main course on the dinner menu. The inaugural concert was held to mark the beginning of Chobok. What is chobok? The Korea Times tells us,
It marks ``Chobok'' ― the first of the so-called dog days in July-August when dog meat soup called ``boshintang'' is consumed nationwide as a traditional health food for summer. The concert symbolizes the changing lifestyle of Koreans, with more and more men refraining from eating dog meat these days out of concerns at the content of boshintang. Due to a lack of supply, boshintang sometimes contains other animal meat, including rabbit and cat. Sometimes ill and stray dogs are used for boshintang.
So much for "health food", eh? There are dog meat soup restaurants still in operation in Korea but many of the younger generation have not developed a taste for it. The Korea Times article says,
On the other hand, many young Koreans love to live with puppies and dogs as pets, and this new generation has grown up without eating dog soup.
The LA Times article goes on to say,
While only a tiny percentage of people in South Korea eat dogs, reports suggest that about 6,000 restaurants in the country engage in the practice of serving them, according to Slate magazine. And although the practice is illegal under South Korean law, an underground industry continues to flourish.
Inevitably whenever someone starts asking me questions about my life in South Korea, I am asked "Have you ever tried dog meat?" The answer is always, "No." There might be a few reasons why I've never been exposed to dog meat.
  1. As a Messianic (formerly Seventh-day Adventist), I don't eat any meat which the Old Testament says is un-kosher. Dog is about as un-kosher as one can get.
  2. Dog meat is considered a medicinal food, promoted mainly to men to increase virility. Since I'm a 미국 여성 (American woman), I am not the target audience for this "health food".
  3. The consumption of dog meat is supposed to be illegal in South Korea going back to the late 80's when South Korea wanted to clean up their image in preparation for the 1988 Summer Olympics. It's not easy to find, thought not impossible if you know where to look.
However, despite my obvious disdain of dog meat, I find it pretty arrogant for Westerners to go into Asian countries and tell them what to eat. Plenty of South Koreans who abhor the practice are speaking out and raising their own voices on this matter. The fact that the younger generation in Korea are not developing a taste for dog meat is a good sign that the practice will fade away on its own. If South Koreans themselves demand action by their government in enforcing the laws currently on the books, the practice will fade away in time.

Chuncheon Chicken Wings

This video was the first recipe I made that resembled an authentic Korean recipe. Dakkalbi is a very popular dish from Chuncheon in Northern Gangwon-do Province in South Korea. Dakkalbi is made with diced chicken which is marinated in a gochujang (chili pepper paste) based sauce, and then stir-fried with sliced Chinese cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions and tteok (rice cake). Dakkalbi is so popular there's a street in Chuncheon called "Dakkalbi" street because it is lined with dozens of dakkalbi restuarants.

I'm wearing a Kangwon National University sweatshirt in this video. I've owned that sweatshirt for a long time. It's not a typical tourist item one would buy on a visit to Chuncheon. Many of my ESL students (I was a teacher at Sam Yook Language School when I lived in Chuncheon) attended university there so I decided to show my support and bought a sweatshirt and I still have it over 10 years later.

I'm also curious what the city fathers of Chuncheon think about the fact that a Google search for Chuncheon brings up two of my dakkalbi based videos (Kimchi Pizza and Chuncheon Alfredo)on the first page of the search (this video shows up on page 2).

Here's one little behind-the-scenes fact about this video. We were in a bit of a hurry to make this video and I didn't totally defrost the chicken (like I tell you to do) before baking it on camera. The chicken wings you see sitting on the plate, sprinkled perfectly with sesame seeds, were about 80% cooked when we filmed the closing segment. We have to microwave the chicken after the shoot to finish cooking it. But at least they fit on the plate!

You can also see that we learned a lesson from the Chuncheon-style Kimchi Pizza video and fast-forwarded through most of the wing-turning to keep the video moving. You'll notice in later videos that we did not resort to this particular technique (double-speed) and just got better at cutting and editing the video to keep the pace.

There were some interesting effects we have seen in other videos, such as "picture in a picture", fancy swipes and various transitions but we have decided it would be better to use simple film editing rather than gimmicks and fancy tricks in our videos. Now that iMovie has added back many of these more creative transitions and effects, we have shied away from using them for now. You need to master basic movie/video editing techniques before getting carried away with all the fancy gimmicks.

If you want to know how to make authentic dakkalbi, the kind that would make Chuncheon's city fathers proud, watch this video and take notes.

Dak Galbi on Foodista

Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching Up With Chris Cosentino: Korean food is not "trendy" asked San Francisco-based celebrity Chef Chris Cosentino about his views on food trends. Here's his comment about Korean food.
"You could say that Korean food is trendy right now, but to me a trend is something that comes, gets really popular, and goes away. Korean food isn't going to go away. It's just that more people are aware of Korean food. It's becoming mainstream, but it's not a trend. It's like bacon, people aren't going to stop eating bacon. Ever."
For more information about Chef Cosentino's take on offal, balut, and his work, go here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Turkey Kimchi Fried Rice

This was my second cooking video. Turkey is not easy to find in Korea (foreigners craving a turkey for Thanksgiving usually have to resort to the "black market" to find them--unless they live on an US Army base or they're close buddies with a soldier). Many Koreans have never heard of it and most have never cooked with it. Which means it was the perfect ingredient to use in my followup cooking video. I wanted to introduce Koreans to turkey by putting into a simple dish that many Koreans grew up eating.

This YouTube video was also a turning point in my relationship with my small audience. Some thought I bore a resemblance to Jodie Foster or Rachel Dratch (formerly of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock) , which brought a smile to my face. I had a friend during my freshman year of college who insisted that I looked so much like Jodie Foster that he was going to submit my name to the college newspaper to try to publicize that "fact" for the entire campus to see and decide for themselves. I dissuaded him from that idea but it was tough.

If one looks closely at the ingredients in the video, it's apparent to the trained eye that I am not using Korean short grain rice in this video. I substituted Basmati rice in this recipe. Why? Because it has a lower glycemic index than most other types of rice.

Another note about the ingredients in this video. I used Kings brand kimchi in this recipe. It's vegetarian and is now commonly sold in grocery stores all over the USA including Safeway, Raleys and SuperWalmart. Someone asked me if the kimchi was "washed out" but that's the way it looks coming out of the bottle. I did not rinse it off.

This recipe was also the subject of a blog by a guy named Martin Aquino. He decided to make his own bokkeumbap, except he replaced the turkey with spicy sausage. Check out his blog and see the results of his efforts.

Fried Rice on Foodista

Curry Deviled Eggs

I really do love deviled eggs. I didn't just say that for the sake of making the video. If I see deviled eggs at a potluck, I'm one of the first to take a taste!

This video is an example of having to re-shoot an important segment after making a mistake during the original shoot. I go into great detail about how to jerry-rig a pastry bag from a disposable sandwich bag to pipe the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites but in the original shoot, I made the hole so big, the yolk mixture ended up being an uncontrollable mess and looked worse than if I had just used a spoon instead.

Hubby didn't want to re-film the segment, at all! Despite my begging, pleading, and whining, he still didn't want to re-shoot the segment. After all, it takes us over an hour just to set up the lights, camera, etc. before we even think about shooting anything. He didn't want to spend an hour setting up the lights, camera, adjusting camera angles, etc. and spend another hour tearing down just to reshoot a 30 sec. to 1 min. segment of video.

I was so mortified at how bad the segment looked, I actually told hubby that if we didn't re-shoot the segment, don't bother posting the video at all. I was that adamant. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a neurotic perfectionist, but I do believe that if I'm going to do a cooking video, I should try to show people the proper technique so they can recreate what they see without blowing up their kitchen.

However, the wisdom of my position prevailed. After I recruited a professional chef (who's a good friend and whose professional opinion hubby and I trust) to convince him that I was right and he was wrong, hubby re-shot the segment. There are some continuity issues (I still used the original messy eggs in my closing segment), but I am much happier with the result.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chuncheon Style Kimchi Pizza

This is my first cooking video.

When I first discovered YouTube, there were a couple of Korean ladies who had made a kimchi pizza video but it was not a serious or well-produced video. They attempted to "bake" the pizza on a grill using only a sheet of tinfoil between the crust and the grate. They burnt the crust on the outside and the only thing Korean about the pizza was the kimchi itself. Otherwise, it was a typical Western pizza.

I knew that I could make a better kimchi pizza and that my hubby and I could make a better video as well. Apparently the young ladies who made the original kimchi pizza video on youtube agreed because their video is no longer available on YouTube. This video is now considered the quintessential kimchi pizza video on YouTube, Google and Yahoo! based on the number of views, which is over 41,000 at the time of this post.

Within a month of posting the video (December 3, 2007) Serious featured this video in an article called How to Make a Kimchi Pizza. I can't believe I made this video that long ago and how much my video style has grown up since we made this video.

The one thing I learned from making that video was that you should film it right. If you use footage of your cooking mistakes, make note of the mistake but you have to have footage of the correct recipe so your viewers don't get confused and end up repeating your mistake. [For more on this, see my post on my video "Curry Deviled Eggs."]

You only have so much time to keep a viewer's attention. The one mistake I made in this video is how long it is. It's nearly 10 minutes long and it could have been edited more tightly. We spent too much time focusing on the basting brush and the application of the sauce on the crust. Every video I have made since this video has been 6 minutes or less.

You always remember the "first" time you do anything new and the Chuncheon Style Kimchi Pizza video will hold that place forever.

Pizza on Foodista

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