Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to avoid jail time over a restaurant review

Any food blogger worth his/her salt has to be careful and make sure their salty commentary doesn't cross the line. (Elisabetta Grondona photo via Creative Commons license)

A Taiwanese blogger with a family name of Liu was sentenced to 30 days in jail, two years of probation and was ordered to pay roughly $6,900 in compensation to a restaurant owner (named Yang) over a review, according to The Daily Mail of London.

Three of her comments were the focus of the legal action:

  1. The beef noodles, which are supposed to be the specialty of the restaurant, were "too salty."
  2. The restaurant had cockroaches and was, therefore, unsanitary.
  3. She called the owner of the restaurant a "bully" because he allowed customers to park their cars "haphazardly" in the parking area, causing traffic jams.

According to the article, Taiwan's High Court, which heard the case on appeal from a lower court, found that Liu’s criticism about cockroaches and the parking situation at the restaurant was a narration of facts, not intentional slander.

The High Court's main objection, surprisingly, was that Liu painted too broad of a brush when she criticized the restaurant's "salty" cuisine because she only eaten only one meal and paid the restaurant only one visit before publishing her review. 

All food bloggers — even ones in the U.S., where legal thresholds for libel and product disparagement are much higher — are one caustic comment away from a lawsuit. Without the deep pockets of a large newspaper or magazine paying the free-speech attorney fees, a blogger can face bankruptcy from even the most frivolous slander or libel suit.

Restauranteurs, and businesses in general, can worry just as much about what a blogger may say on the Internet about their product as they are about a review from a respected food writer in their local newspaper.

Blog posts can live on long after publication. Reviews in traditional media also are getting longer shelf lives online. Discovery, via the right search terms, is just a mouse click away. One can even find reviews easily for restaurants long since closed.

I discussed this story with several food and beverage bloggers. All said the court's decision was over-reaching. A restaurant review, whether on a blog post or in a high-revenue commercial publication, is understood to be simply a snapshot in time, the opinion of one person on one day at one meal. Readers understand that and take note accordingly.

In the U.S., a libel or product disparagement lawsuit can bring even far more attention to the unfavorable review than if it were allowed to go into obscurity. Marketing-savvy businesses simply post a rebuttal comment with the original review and let readers decide whether the review's conclusions are warranted. Bloggers and traditional publications worth reading — i.e., managed by staff mature enough to welcome criticism — will approve the rebuttal comments. (Print media often publish the rebuttals as letters to the editor.)

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution offers far more protection than the free speech codes of other countries, including South Korea. However, there still are lessons for American food bloggers to help avoid trouble.
  1. Take a lesson from reviewers of durable consumer products, such as electronics. Reviewers will contact the manufacturer with a list of complaints or problems and ask for clarification or help. Sometimes, the problem is the reviewer's, and sometimes it's a defect. In other words, if you suspect a problem with a dish or service, verify that the problem actually exists and wasn't a fluke (a tragic accident killed one of the staff, leaving them short-handed during the lunch or dinner rush) or a matter of personally preference (salt of spiciness sensitivity).
  2. During those visits, pick a different entree each time
  3. If you can't go more than one time because of time or monetary restraints, invite a few of your family, friends or co-workers with you so you can sample more dishes and also get an opportunity to see how well they serve your larger table. 
  4. Never, ever, forget your camera. If you witness health code violations or something illegal, such as cockroaches, rats or "recycling" of banchan, take photos at that moment. 
    1. In the U.S., truth is an absolute defense against libel, although there is no defense against costly, fruitless legal battles. 
    2. In other countries, such as South Korea, this may offer only limited protection. Some protection is better than none.
  5. Sometimes, the most appropriate venue to complain about health code violations is the local health department, rather than a paragraph in your food blog, accompanied with snarky adjectives and flowery prose. If the local agency takes action, then report on that action. At that point, it's part of the public record.
  6. Criticizing for an issue outside a restaurant's control, such as how badly their customers park their vehicles, may create cute quips, but it mostly fails to provide constructive criticism for the proprietor or decision-making direction to the potential patron. Perhaps, the restaurateur could take corrective curbside action, if the problem actually existed.
Now, having said that, Mr. Yang, the restaurant owner, seemed to have earned his "bully" moniker by taking her to court in the first place. The most damning accusation she made against the restaurant — visible cockroaches — actually was vindicated by the High Court. Yang took Liu to court, got her thrown in jail for 30 days and received nearly $7,000 in compensation for his "injury" over her comment that his cuisine was "too salty."

Koreans call a stingy person "salty" as in 넌 너무 짜 nuhn nuhmu jja, "You're too salty." This restaurant owner seems to be "too salty" because of his own over-reaction to the original blog post.

The Taiwanese court's decision to penalize this blogger so harshly for such a facile opinion has brought real disrepute on Taiwan, far more disrepute than Liu's blog post brought on Yang's noodle restaurant.

Food bloggers based in the People's Republic of China have more freedom of speech than their Taiwanese counterparts.
"… man and we thought our speech was limited over on the mainland…. We find this pretty frightening. God knows we at Shanghaiist have written more damning things than that a dish was too salty. We hate to think what would happen if we were called Taipeiist instead." —Tiffany Ap of Shanghaiist, commenting on the case
When people in the PRC have greater freedom of speech than the Taiwanese, that is a sad day for Taiwan's standing in the free world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to eat like a Korean: Tammy's top 10 banchan

Korean food would not have the same appeal to American masses without 반찬 banchan. That's the name for the collection of samples of veggies, herbs and fish-filled fare in little dishes across the table in a common Korean meal. Traditionally, banchan accompanies the main course, but a number of restaurants in the U.S. use banchan as a gratis appetizer.
"I rate Korean restaurants by their 반찬 (banchan aka sidedishes)." —Moses Olson on Twitter
Koreans love their veggies. They have invented more than 200 varieties of kimchi — which means just "pickled vegetable" — to preserve their favorite vegetables and herbs well past their natural shelf lives.

A large number of Korean recipes include fresh, in-season vegetables. One such dish is the perennial favorite 비빔밥 bibimbap, a dish with a load of vegetables and 두부 dubu (tofu) or meat atop rice and capped with a healthy dollop of 고추장 gochujang, or spicy red pepper sauce.

With such an extensive variety to chose from, no "top 10" banchan list will scratch the surface of the variety served in Korean restaurants and homes in the Land of the Morning Calm and on the east side of the Pacific. Once you unravel the mysteries of banchan, you'll be well on your way to eating like a Korean.

Let's wade into the basic banchan pool. Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

Korean spinach salad is easy to make on your own. If you don't have the time, most Korean grocery stores sell it premade. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Spinach salad, sigeumchi namul (시금치 나물). If Popeye had this spinach dish at hand, he would never again eat spinach from a can. A quick blanching and a balanced marinade will make this spinach salad approachable to all your non-Korean friends.

Korean potato salad, common Korean restaurant banchan in the States, is not so common in Korea. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)
Korean potato salad (감자 샐러드) is Korean in the sense that Koreans in the U.S. discovered potato salad and decided to make it their own. They added a bit of sugar and lots of diced celery, apples and pears. Some versions also use finely diced carrots, bell peppers, or sultanas. I've also seen some versions include diced spam or Canadian bacon.

A couple of tablespoons of cooked rice, a little bulgogi and some diced tomatoes make a cute, healthy appetizer. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Seasoned, roasted seaweed sheets, or kim (김), are more commonly known by the Japanese term nori in the States. You can use kim as part of a 쌈 ssam, or wrap, with your favorite Korean barbecue. Wrap a sheet around a bite of rice, or eat it by itself as a snack.

I brought some kim to a get-together a few weeks ago. The adults approached the kim warily, but the children inhaled it. It does a good job at satisfying those occasional salt cravings that might otherwise drive you to grab a bag of fried potato chips ("crisps" in British parlance).

Seaweed salad appetizer from Honey BBQ Cuisine, Rohnert Park, Calif. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Sauteed seaweed, miyeokjulgi bokkeum (미역줄기 볶음), is one of the few banchan I don't have to share with my seaweed-averse husband. The marine vegetable gives you a good iodine boost and won't pack on the pounds.

You don't have to wait for Hanukkah to have some potato pancakes. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

Korean latkes, gamja jeon, (감자전). When I make gamja jeon at home, I grate the potatoes, the garlic, ginger and the onion by hand, rather than using a food processor. There are Korean grandmothers — and Jewish grandmothers as well — who say that the only authentic potato pancake is one made totally by hand, eschewing food processors and other such modern shortcuts. In honor of them, I always make mine the same way.

White kimchi is subtle, clean and simply delicious. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

White kimchi, baek kimchi (백김치) is proof that not all kimchi is red and spicy and out to burn you at both ends. Many kimchi variations that are mild and even refreshing.

These are not my grandmother's mung bean sprouts. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Marinated mung bean sprouts, sukjunamul (숙주나물). Mung bean sprouts were one of my late grandmother's favorite vegetables. She always had cans of La Choy bean sprouts around the house so she could satiate her cravings for chicken chow mein.

Korean pickled radish, aka chikin mu (치킨 무), at Cocobang! Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)
Korean pickled radish, chikin mu (치킨 무), is the perfect palate cleanser and "degreaser" after Korean fried chicken. (Cocobbang in San Francisco has good chikin mu and curry-infused fried chicken.) If your craving inspires you into the kitchen, consider this recipe for chikin mu from Aeris's Kitchen.

 I enjoy mixing pyogo bohsot (표고버섯) directly into my rice bowl. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Sauteed shiitake mushrooms, pyogo bohsot (표고버섯) also does double duty in many versions of bibimbap on either side of the Pacific. The earthy-tasting, dark-colored fungus is a good meat substitute.

Whether they're bite-sized or plate sized, kimchi jeon are a good way to sneak some kimchi into the diets of your spice-adverse pals. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Kimchi pancakes, or kimchi jeon (김치전), are simple to make but can be time-consuming.  The batter is nearly identical to that used for Sunday brunch, except kimchi jeon batter is mixed with water and ground pork, hamburger or shellfish, rather than blueberries or bananas — savory rather than sweet.

Most kimchi jeon are made on a large scale, at least 7 inches in diameter and the chef cuts them up into smaller pieces before service. Some restaurants do make them bite sized, but it's not as common

We have only scratched the surface of all the varieties of banchan. But now you're ready to start eating like a Korean.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Warning: Foreigner eats Korean food

North Americans who have lived in Korea for any length of time share Michael Aronson's frustration. Many Koreans presume that because our skin is white (or black), our tongues are too delicate to handle many of the bold and spicy dishes they love.



It may have something to do with the fact that many South Koreans don't know how multicultural our taste buds are. Many North Americans, particularly on the coasts and in states that border Mexico, have been exposed to various spicy cuisines in the form of Tex-Mex, Thai and Indian cuisine long before hopping on that plane to Seoul for a year or more of work in Korea.

There could be an inferiority complex at play in the assumption. Unfortunately, some Koreans assume Western foods are inherently superior. That's very unfortunate, because Koreans have plenty of culinary lessons to teach North Americans that can make us healthier and thinner.

Or as Aronson said in the video, "As a foreigner, I often get asked by some Koreans if I eat/like Korean food. Why wouldn't I?"

The video below a short skit of Michael Aronson and Matt Lee's reenacting misunderstandings weygookin (non-Koreans) and hangookin (Koreans) experience when deciding which food court hawker stand is good enough for the both of them. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jamba Juice's fifth location near South Korea's Supreme Court

Now, the highly esteemed Korean Supreme Court can get their Jamba Juice smoothies within walking distance. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)


SPC Group, most well known as the owners of Paris Croissant, have aspirations of Korean smoothie conquest as they launch their fifth Korean Jamba Juice franchise location in five months. It's also their fourth location "south of the Han." The only exception is their first location in Incheon's airport.

The most recent opening is in Seocho near the Daebeobwon, South Korea's Supreme Court.

“The Jamba brand continues to be enthusiastically received by the South Korean population,” according to Thibault de Chatellus, Jamba Juice's senior vice president International in a company press release, “We are pleased with our early success in South Korea and look forward to growing and developing our brand in other international markets.”

If you want to find it for yourself, the exact address is 서울 서초구 서초동 1327-1 홍우빌딩 1층, which translates roughly as Seoul, Seochu-gu, Seochu-dong on the first floor of the Hongwoo building. The quickest way to get there is to take the subway line 2, to the Gangnam station, exit 4. Walk about two blocks south from exit 4 and it will be on your left.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Jade Chocolate's confections promote free flavor love

A little chocolate is like a love affair — an occasional sweet release that lightens the spirit. —Linda Solegato
If chocolate is a lover, it's not monogamous. Chocolate shares itself easily with most fruits, nuts, some legumes, tea wine and even flowers.

Mindy Fong, owner and proprietor of Jade Chocolates in San Francisco, brings a true pan-Asian flair to her confections. Many chocolatiers pair their treats with "safe" Asian ingredients, such as green tea, jasmine tea and ginger.

Fong encourages her chocolates to share themselves with more exotic Asian partners such as dried mango (sometimes shaped like orchids), roasted sesame seeds, roasted brown rice, lemongrass, tamari-soaked almonds, lapang souchong tea and ylang ylang flower.

I had a chance to talk to her recently at Napa Chocolate Salon, held in the upper Napa Valley town of Yountville. The venue was just a few blocks from the world-famous Bouchon Bakery, owned by chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry acclaim.

What foods or flavors wouldn't Fong mix with chocolate?

"Chocolate is basic, like black and white," she replied. "It complements many different flavors."

Just as I suspected: Chocolate is a sensory swinger, freely giving out love to everyone.

Jade Chocolate's chocolate covered edamame, just waiting to be sampled. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Jade Chocolate's chocolate-covered edamame (soybeans) seemed like odd match-making. Fong dry-roasts the edamame, bathes them in bittersweet chocolate then dusts on bittersweet chocolate powder and sea salt.

I was expecting a "beany" taste, but I didn't detect it. When edamame is roasted, the legumes taste similar to a peanut but more subtle, she told me. I now concur. Yet the inside of her enhanced edamame had more crunch than I'd expect from a chocolate-covered roasted peanut.

Two kinds of flavors, Fong said, don't complement chocolate well:
  1. "Delicate flavors."
  2. Flavors with a similar "earthy" profile to chocolate.
Pu-er tea, she pointed out, has a strong "earthy" flavor that muddies the flavor of any variety of chocolate.

Korea has its own perplexing pairing. Kimchi chocolate has a zippy liquid center. If spicy pickled cabbage spiked with hints of garlic, ginger and fish sauce can tango with chocolate, then just about anything else can do so too.

Chocolate is most seductive, it seems, when it is matched with complementary but equally strong flavors, just as people are. It may not be a choosy lover, but chocolate certainly performs well on play dates.

Semisweet Chocolate on FoodistaSemisweet Chocolate

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vote for my Korean Taco and Pul-bbang recipes on Food52

Kogi-inspired Korean taco on a bed of shredded cabbage and a warm corn tortilla. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

A spoonful of red bean paste is surrounded by a rice flour exterior. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

I entered my Korean Taco and Pul-bbang recipes in Food52's Your Best Street Food contest. Please check out my recipes, and "like" them.

Food52 is hosted by Amanada Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. They're working on a second cookbook with "the best recipes from Food52":
We do this by hosting weekly recipe contests: we choose the finalists and post slideshows of us making the recipes; then everyone votes and the winners go into the book.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Video: How to make Gaeran Jjim (Korean steamed egg casserole)


This video will show a simple way to make 계란찜 gyeran/gaeran jjim (Korean steamed egg casserole). The written version with pictures can be found at Kfoodaddict.com.

There's no bad time to eat Korean food, but gaeran jjim is particularly good for a quick, protein-packed breakfast.

It's also a good meal to make if you've just recovered from a serious stomach illness and you want to gently reintroduce your stomach to real food. Gaeran jjim is light and easy to digest yet nourishing with adequate protein.

Some Korean restaurants offer it as one of their gratis banchan (appetizers or side dishes). If a restaurant serves it, don't pass it up.

Friday, June 3, 2011

10 ways to celebrate World Egg Day

Most cultures of the world have recipes using eggs as the primary source of protein. Since today is World Egg Day, I thought I'd show you all the ways I've come up with so far. Most of them are dessert material, rather than main course material. Your sweet tooth has been warned.


Gungjung tteokbokki


There are two schools of thought on the egg garnish that I decided to use in this recipe. One school says to separate the egg yolk from the white and fry them separately, allow to cool and cut into thin strips, which is the version I use here. The other school says to separate the yolk and white, make the thin omelet and cut them on a diagonal to create diamond shapes.


Korean egg toast


This Korean street food includes a sprinkling of brown sugar at the end but for the most part, it is a wholesome mix of eggs, vegetables and bread.

Pul-bbang (풀빵) Korean pancake dumplings


Sneak some more eggs into your diet with these bite-sized stuff "donut holes."


Curry devilled eggs






Consider making a couple dozen of these deviled eggs to your next potluck. You won't have any to take back home so you might want to make three or four dozen.


Saeng Cream Cake



This recipe doesn't seem to match the theme until you realize this recipe includes 6 egg yolks. That's a lot of eggs.


Yuja Curd


This spin on the classic lemon curd would not hold up without the slowly cooked eggs holding it together.

French Toast with Yujacha Syrup



French Toast would be grilled bread without eggs.

Yujacha scones




For most Americans, scones are for high tea or Easter Sunday brunches. Today, consider it a sneaky way to sneak some egg into your diet. As Bill Cosby said, "It has eggs, milk, wheat, that's nutrition."

Buzz Button Brownies


I made these legal, fun alternative to marijuana brownies with a liberal dose of Szechuan button petals. They produce a mild tingle on the tongue like a voltage from a 9 volt battery on your tongue. The petals have the color of eggs, don't they?

Hamantaschen (Yujacha and Chocolate)


The chocolate hamantaschen recipe uses one egg more than the yujacha version. You can increase the egg quotient if you decide to coat the dough with egg wash before baking.

Egg on FoodistaEgg

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