ZenKimchi http://zenkimchi.com Exploring Korean food since 2004 Thu, 10 Aug 2017 13:42:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 https://i2.wp.com/zenkimchi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/cropped-ZK_Logo_app_512.png?fit=32%2C32 ZenKimchi http://zenkimchi.com 32 32 This is a secret find on The Dark Side of Seoul Ghost Walk. Any guess what it could be? http://zenkimchi.com/featured/this-is-a-secret-find-on-the-dark-side-of-seoul-ghost-walk-any-guess-what-it-could-be/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/this-is-a-secret-find-on-the-dark-side-of-seoul-ghost-walk-any-guess-what-it-could-be/#respond Tue, 01 Aug 2017 01:43:42 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91792 View on Instagram http://ift.tt/2wfK1m7

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You, Sparkle Mineral Water, are a bottle of LIES! http://zenkimchi.com/featured/you-sparkle-mineral-water-are-a-bottle-of-lies/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/you-sparkle-mineral-water-are-a-bottle-of-lies/#respond Sat, 29 Jul 2017 05:27:23 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91790 View on Instagram http://ift.tt/2vgiJj5

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Naengmyeon with raw fish http://zenkimchi.com/featured/naengmyeon-with-raw-fish/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/naengmyeon-with-raw-fish/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 04:13:10 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91789 View on Instagram http://ift.tt/2vUQ1R4

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Try the New Improved MegaMaps http://zenkimchi.com/announcements/try-new-improved-megamaps/ http://zenkimchi.com/announcements/try-new-improved-megamaps/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 13:23:25 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91774 The latest version of the ZenKimchi Food & Tours App has been released on both iOS and Android. We’re steadily getting new downloads. I hadn’t promoted the app heavily until I fixed some basic annoyances I had with it. Mainly, THE MEGAMAP. The original workaround was to frame a Google Map inside a shell. I […]

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The latest version of the ZenKimchi Food & Tours App has been released on both iOS and Android.

We’re steadily getting new downloads. I hadn’t promoted the app heavily until I fixed some basic annoyances I had with it. Mainly, THE MEGAMAP.

The original workaround was to frame a Google Map inside a shell. I had already spent weeks building the original MegaMap, and I was trying to find a way to make it work inside the app. The other option was to get users to download it and install it in the Google MyMaps app. The advantage of this was that the map could be updated on the fly. Yet it was slow and clunky. Even worse, it didn’t have a way to show where you were in relation to the restaurants. No “Center Map Here” button. Believe me, I spent every spare moment working on hacks to get this stupid button on the map.

Then I came up with another solution. I could put the map in another system that was native to both Android and iOS. This would give the following advantages.

  • Center the map on the user’s location
  • Show which restaurants were closest to the user
  • Faster operation

The disadvantages were that it removed the search capability, and the restaurants will only update whenever the app itself is updated. It’s all self contained.


The MegaMaps work SO MUCH better now.

Because of transferring to a whole new system, I’m having to rebuild the map from scratch. There wasn’t a foolproof way to import the original MegaMap. I’m typing in and uploading pictures for each restaurant one by one. This will take a few weeks. With each update there will be more restaurants. The goal is to make this the most useful app for you when you’re looking for a place to eat in Korea or a place to have a drink. I’ve already found it useful, and I use it frequently myself.

Hang on. More is coming.

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10 Ways to Survive a Korean Summer http://zenkimchi.com/announcements/10-ways-to-survive-a-korean-summer/ http://zenkimchi.com/announcements/10-ways-to-survive-a-korean-summer/#comments Tue, 11 Jul 2017 01:01:25 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=4375 These are the foods we cling to that makes the blistering Korean summer bearable. Let's pop open the ice chest and share the goodies.

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I think the ice has melted now. Pretty safe to say that. But who knows with that hellish winter that stuck around too long like me at a wine party. Hopefully the list we did on winter survival foods helped a bit. Now it’s time to cope with the heat and the rain.

Eun Jeong and I pow-wowed on this list. As with the winter list, she had reservations on a few items that Koreans don’t consider traditional foods for this time of year. But for a lot of us, these are the foods we cling to that makes the blistering Korean summer bearable. Let’s pop open the ice chest and share the goodies.

10. MulHwe 물회

MulHui - chilled sashimi soup

This chilled sashimi soup and its “bibim” cousin Makhwe 막회 come all slushed out in crushed ice in a refreshing just-spicy-enough broth. Put the frosty stainless steel bowl to your mouth, and it’s like drinking from Arctic waters–if they were filled with gochujang and thinly sliced fish.

9. Patbingsu 팥빙수

Eun Jeong eating Patbingsu

I think of Patbingsu as a frozen dessert bibimbap. Shaved ice gets loaded with sweetened red beans, various fruits, candies, pillowy marshmallow-like ddeok plus whatever other additions can be fit in there, like sweetened condensed milk and ice cream. I like mine with a lot of fruit. Just stir it like bibimbap and devour. Watch for patbingsu headaches!

8. Bindaeddeok and Dong Dong Ju 빈대떡과 동동주

Mung bean pancakes and makkoli rice beer

These are for a lazy afternoon when the sun is baking or when the rain is beating down on the steamy ground. A crispy, toasty, almost corn scented, Bindaeddeok (mung bean pancake) with the house made rice brew Dong Dong Ju satisfies the inner ajosshi. Enjoy this in the open air or under a shelter isolated by the sea of rain.

7. Samgyetang 삼계탕

Samgyetang - Ginseng Whole Chicken Soup

This is the obligatory Samgyetang ranking, considering it’s the top traditional cure for summer’s electrolyte depletion. Assuming it was bland compared to other Korean foods, I stayed away from it for years. But one hot day, Eun Jeong was greatly craving it. For me, the chicken isn’t the star. It’s the ginseng and the goodies inside the chicken. That combined with the Insam-ju–soju inflused with ginseng–and the tastes bring me to a cool moss-blanketed forest floor. If you can handle picking through the bones of an entire chicken, this isn’t a bad dish for late summer.

6. Hwe DeopBap 회덮밥

Hui DeopBap - Sashimi Bibimbap

From avlxyz on Flickr

I understand the old guideline that raw fish is meant for the winter. That was good advice before the days of reliable refrigeration. Even though Hwe DeopBap has the name “DeopBap,” it’s treated more like a Bibimbap than just raw fish on rice. It’s rice, lettuce, veggies and some type of raw fish that you mix with vinegared gochujang (Chojang 초장). It’s cooling and would make a great lunch during a day at the beach–or a great lunch that would make you think you’re having a day at the beach. I particularly like mine with some crunchy fish roe sprinkled in there.

5. Strange Korean Ice Creams

Corn ice cream

Summer brings on new waves of discounted Korean ice creams. We’ve seen the tomato popsicle, the controversial corn ice cream (love it), sweet potato ice cream and the suggestively titled “Big Screw.” There’s that clever watermelon ice cream popsicle with chocolate-covered sesame seeds. The milkshake in a pouch. The popsicle with gum inside the popsicle stick. Sports ice. Pistachio ice cream cones. Fish-shaped BungeoBbang ice cream. Pineapple bars. Melon bars. Red bean popsicles. The Dwaeji Bar.

Summer makes me fat.

4. Oi NaengGuk 오이냉국/Oi Muchim 오이무침

Korean cucumber salad

These are almost in the same category. I love the tiny bowl of tangy chilled cucumber soup that comes as banchan with many summer meals. I also look forward to Eun Jeong’s Oi Muchim, which is by far the most popular recipe on ZenKimchi. Thinly sliced cucumbers dressed with onions in a sweet and spicy vinegar dressing. The taste of summer!

Also, Maangchi shows how to make Oi Naengguk.

3. Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

Those cucumber dishes are best accompanied by a charcoal barbecue. Not traditionally considered a summer food in Korea, I’m pretty sure the rest of the world considers grilling meat a summer treat. I can’t wait for those steamy heavy nights sitting outside, watching the people go by, grilling galbi and samgyeopsal with some icy draft beers.

2. Fried Chicken and Beer

Two-Two Fried Chicken

Speaking of beer, summer is the ideal time for the Korean chicken hof–bars that specialize in Korean fried chicken and beer. It’s a classic combo, right Ludacris?

Ludacris - Chicken and Beer

I keep going back to my first year in Korea and hanging out at Two-Two Chicken with the Ansan gang. Something about the summer heat even makes the mayo and ketchup drizzled cabbage taste good.

1. Naengmyeon 냉면

Naengmyeon - Chilled Buckwheat Noodles

This is the reason to look forward to summer. I’ve already had my first Naengmyeon fit, and the quenching bowl of noodles doused the heat-induced cravings. And don’t forget the Gangwon Province version called Makguksu. There’s even a makguksu museum out there. This restaurant we went to last weekend also served simple buckwheat jeon that were pleasantly smooth and mild with a touch of the earthiness that makes Naengmyeon noodles so great. *

There are many more summer foods that didn’t make the list but should get an honorable mention, like Mul Kimchi, Makguksu, fresh blended fruit juice and barley tea. What are some others?

* I should note that even though buckwheat is not a grain that comes from grass (like wheat) and doesn’t itself have gliadin proteins that aggravate the gluten-sensitive, most Korean Naengmyeon, Makguksu and Japanese Soba are mixed with some wheat flour so that the noodles can form a strong enough dough, like around 10 percent. So if you’re highly gluten-sensitive, it’s best to avoid them.

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My favorite snack lately. Korean Smoked Eggs. http://zenkimchi.com/featured/my-favorite-snack-lately-korean-smoked-eggs/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/my-favorite-snack-lately-korean-smoked-eggs/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 04:22:40 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91732 View on Instagram http://ift.tt/2tgGvdF

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Where To Eat in Korea? Download Our New App. http://zenkimchi.com/featured/eat-korea-download-new-app/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/eat-korea-download-new-app/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 03:33:02 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91714 The post Where To Eat in Korea? Download Our New App. appeared first on ZenKimchi.


Is there a reliable map of restaurants in Seoul?

What bars have specials tonight?

I’m visiting Seoul. What should I do there? Are there any good tours?

How can I meet fellow Korean foodies in Korea?

I’ve been working hard for the past few months on this, and now it’s finally come out. The ZenKimchi Food & Tours App is now available in the Google Play Store.


The app includes the following features:

  • Restaurant MegaMap with spots curated from ZenKimchi, Restaurant Buzz Seoul, and even books like Graham Holliday’s new must-read tome Eating Korea: Reports on a Culinary Renaissance. It also includes popular markets and food neighborhoods.
  • Food Events Calendar. A convenient easy-to-use source for wing nights, trivia nights, ladies’ nights. bar specials, pop-up events, makgeolli making classes. You no longer have an excuse to stay home for the evening.
  • Easily bookable tours. The famous Dark Side of Seoul Ghost Walk and other tours are now easily bookable from within the app.
  • Social Feature. Find and chat with other foodies in Korea. It’s like KakaoTalk for Korean foodies (aka “Grumblees”). You can also turn off this feature for privacy.

More features will be on the way. Get in early and check it out.

UPDATE: iOS version is now available for iPhone and iPad.

Restaurant & Bar Owners

Add your weekly specials, events, and special menus to the app by filling out this form.


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Has Korea’s E-Mart Policy Hurt More Than Helped? http://zenkimchi.com/commentary/koreas-e-mart-supermarket-policy-hurt/ http://zenkimchi.com/commentary/koreas-e-mart-supermarket-policy-hurt/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 01:23:46 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91693 The post Has Korea’s E-Mart Policy Hurt More Than Helped? appeared first on ZenKimchi.


Is E-Mart Killing The Economy?

Korea’s traditional grocery stores are struggling. They have been struggling for decades, since the first E-Mart “super-supermarket” opened in 1993. According to a recent article by Korea Exposé, between 2000 and 2011, for every one store like E-Mart opening, 22 smaller mom-and-pops have gone out of business. Since people’s needs for groceries haven’t waned, it’s logical to suggest that these big box centers have sucked the market from the smaller guys.

E-Mart, Lotte Mart, and Homeplus are run by Korea’s humongous family run conglomerates, chaebols. They have the deep pockets to sell items at slim margins and even at a loss in order to unfairly secure their markets. I’ve heard stories on the inside how E-Mart is one of the most egregious practitioners of squeezing its suppliers to the point that they hardly make any profit off items they sell in its stores.

Last week at Seoul Food 2017, I was talking to a vendor who supplies mostly Costco. He said that E-Mart reps recently stopped by and wanted to set up distribution for some of his products in their stores at a much lower rate than Costco would have. The vendor politely refused, and the reps acted like the vendor was crazy for turning down this golden opportunity. I should note that they weren’t open for negotiation either.

The Solution…

One of the solutions some officials cooked up a few years ago was to close all big box supercenters two days a month. On paper, it made sense. If E-Mart was closed, then shoppers would have to get their vegetables at the local small market instead.

Yet that’s not really how it’s turned out.

Small mom-and-pops are still going out of business. I see it all the time. The big boxes have continued to expand.

I’ll throw in what I’ve witnessed myself. I know it’s anecdotal, but this is real.

Big Boxes Attract Customers More Through Variety Than Discounts

One of the early controversies of the store closing law was that it included Costco. Even though Costco is known as a discount supercenter, it doesn’t sell products that directly compete with small biz grocery stores. People don’t go to Costco for gochujang and garlic. They go there for exotic imported food, liquor, and vitamins that they can’t get anywhere else. If a consumer wants to buy a block of cheddar cheese, and Costco is closed, there isn’t an alternative. The mom-and-pops don’t sell blocks of cheddar. Or Italian meats. Or Omega-3 tablets.

If Costco is closed that day, then the consumer is just going to wait until it re-opens.

There are other items that are more common in Korean households that smaller grocery stores don’t supply. Things you don’t even think about, like cat litter. Thank goodness we had a Daiso selling cheap cat litter on a Homeplus-is-closed day when our daughter decided to be a cat and peed in the litter box.

The Law Hurts Other Small Businesses

In its efforts to protect small grocery stores, this law has hurt small businesses that rely on the larger retailers. Restaurants, in particular, rely on Costco and other larger retailers for some of their ingredients. When I started the BBQ pub last year, I had no contacts for suppliers, and it wasn’t as if they were banging on my door. (Well, an import beer distributor did.) A lot of the ingredients we needed for the type of food we served mostly existed at Costco, and it was closer to our restaurant than the other places. There was an E-Mart across the street as well.

There were times when I was prepping in the kitchen and discovered we were out of a crucial ingredient, or we needed some type of kitchen supply. I’d run across the street to E-Mart to get it, and it was closed. There were no other stores close by that sold what we needed to keep the restaurant running. We just had to take it off the menu that evening.

And lose sales.

Closing a source of unique crucial supplies for other small businesses is not only ham handed. It shows favoritism for one type of small business over another. More restaurants close each year in Korea than grocery stores, but there are no laws protecting them from unfair practices by large corporations.

And what of the suppliers for the big boxes? I know a few of them, and they’re not swimming in cash. They’re already stressed from the narrow margins E-Mart and Hyundai give. It compounds their struggles when they can’t sell their products because of mandatory store closings. I’m not just talking about boutique importers. This includes makgeolli brewers, mandu makers, and seafood suppliers. There is no efficient way for them to also get into the smaller grocery stores. The shelves are smaller, and the distribution network is highly inefficient. (Which is a whole other post.)

Large Supermarkets Aren’t Always Cheaper

At the pub, stores like E-Mart were last resorts. I preferred getting my vegetables and dry goods at my local farmers’ co-op and the small grocery stores near my house in Gimpo. The quality was better, and the prices were competitive, if not lower. If I’m out shopping, the mantra I hear from my wife is, “Don’t buy vegetables from Homeplus.”

That’s because their produce is awful and overpriced. Milk is the only common item we buy at Homeplus over the local stores because of price. But even that is changing. We only go to Homeplus for items not at the other stores, like oatmeal, wine, and imported goods. I personally avoid going to Homeplus because it’s more inconvenient. The parking at big boxes is hell. And then you have to go through a series of conveyor belt escalators to get to the food section. It takes too much time compared to the local markets.

It Hurts Small Communities

We currently live in a small neighborhood in Gimpo. We have lots of small grocery stores and one Homeplus. Yet, since we’re a small neighborhood, the building that houses the Homeplus also houses clothing stores, hair salons, a few restaurants, and the neighborhood’s only movie theater. When Homeplus is forced to close, all the other businesses have to shut their doors too.

Last December, my daughter and I got all ready to go see the new Star Wars movie. She was so excited. But the movie theater was closed when we got there because the adjoining supermarket was required to shut down. We eventually found a theater showing the movie in another neighborhood, but seriously. In small communities, closing down the local big box also closes down a lot of other small businesses that the community relies on.

One could also make the case that an E-Mart employs more people than all the small grocery stores in a community combined. But I wouldn’t lean too heavily on that argument. I’m not a big fan of how chaebols treat their employees.

Anti-Consumer, Not Anti-Chaebol

The law as it currently stands is more anti-consumer than it is anti-big-business. There have to be better ways to reign in chaebol power than to hurt other small businesses, consumers, and small communities. According to the Korea Exposé article, the new Moon Jae-in administration (whom I generally support) may actually INCREASE the number of days the big boxes close. This will only hurt the public more than it will help small grocery stores.

How about going in, investigating, and finding a solution to the chaebol choking their suppliers? How about making distribution networks more efficient and less corrupt?

That’s going deeper into the root of the problem. Closing E-Mart a few times a month is just treating the symptom.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (cc)

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Beware Korean Food TV Scams http://zenkimchi.com/featured/beware-korean-food-tv-scams/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/beware-korean-food-tv-scams/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 14:47:25 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91684 The post Beware Korean Food TV Scams appeared first on ZenKimchi.


This was posted recently on Facebook:

Hello, everyone!
Namaste ^^;
Today, I received a call from a big cable broadcasting company in our country. There is a kind of food broadcasting.
They suggest to me that some famous entertainers come to our restaurant and take a broadcasting of eating the food.
But they asked me to sponsor some money. approximately 7,000,000 KRW (6,800 USD). I don’t have money. Ha Ha Ha….. lol
The unreasonable truth that can not go to the TV show, if there is no money.
Have a nice day all. ^^;

This was from Taj Mahal in Korea, an Indian restaurant in Daegu.

I’ll say firstly that not every production in Korea does sleazy tactics like this, but I’ve had enough experience with productions to not trust what you see. Don’t trust most of the blogs. Don’t trust the TV shows. Don’t even trust many of the newspaper articles. And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER trust a line outside a restaurant in Seoul. Restaurants have “plants” stand in line. They put out chairs and ticket number machines to make it look like they’re fake-ly popular.

I mentioned before that my old restaurant partner at the pub paid an agency to get bloggers to write trumped up reviews. This was one of the reasons I left the restaurant.

Almost every restaurant in Seoul has been featured on TV, so it’s nothing special when they have signs showcasing their thirty seconds of fame. Autographs on a restaurant’s wall don’t mean much. To paraphrase Graham Holliday’s Eating Korea: Reports on a Culinary Renaissance, they’re more like graveyards of fame than endorsements of the restaurant.

Don’t even trust the tourism organization, or even Michelin. They seem to have been corrupted as well.

Don’t even trust people like me appearing on TV. In many cases, we’re paid to be “interviewed,” which means they give us a script to go by. They frown on us giving our real opinions, and if you want to go home after 14 hours of filming some inane scene, you would say just about anything. That’s why you don’t see me much on TV these days.

Blogging and media culture in Korea just doesn’t have the ethical standards. In some cases, they are corrupt to the core. In most cases, they’re just unaware of ethical standards.

We need more restaurants and people on the inside exposing these practices. I’m jaded enough to believe that they won’t change a lot of the old unethical tactics. But I’m more interested in consumer awareness.

Spread this around.

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Seoul Food Festival 2017: Picnic on the Bridge http://zenkimchi.com/featured/seoul-food-festival-2017-picnic-bridge/ http://zenkimchi.com/featured/seoul-food-festival-2017-picnic-bridge/#respond Sat, 06 May 2017 07:03:19 +0000 http://zenkimchi.com/?p=91585 The Seoul Food Festival was a microcosm of the current state of the Seoul food scene, especially regarding food trucks--and gender politics?

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For Children’s Day, we went to the Picnic on the Bridge, part of the Seoul Food Festival, organized by Chosun TV. What they did was take over the lower deck of the double decker Banpo Bridge and made it into a boulevard of food demos, booths, and food trucks–along with the prerequisite awkward photo stunts and Hallyu promos.

I’m posting this because it encapsulated the current state of food in Seoul, Korean food marketing, and other cultural dynamics. I’m also, as always, talking out my rear, so take this all with a grain of 꽃소금.

General Notes

Foreign VIPs

Franco Pepe

The organizers imported some good VIPs for this one. The most notable was Franco Pepe, the legendary pizza artist from Italy. I did what I swore I would never do–stood in line for a slice of pizza. Thankfully, the line didn’t last that long, and the slice was worth it. The dough was like marshmallowy chapssal ddeok, crisped up, chewy, voluptuous. It was so sexy that I’m sure Red Tube has a channel for it.

Jeannie Cho Lee was there, and I didn’t get around to saying hi. We had done projects over media through the years but had never met in person. Oh well…

The Usual Weird Shit

Giant BibimbapZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

Just like making foreign VIPs wear hanbok and doing the Gangnam Style dance, it’s become standard practice to have a swimming pool of bibimbap stirred up by the obviously embarrassed chefs for the photo ops. Since it was the fastest line, we did get a bowl to share. And we were all surprised it was pretty good. Spicy too. Still, I am eager to retire the Giant Bibimbap™ at Korean food festivals.

Finishing the bibimbap at the Seoul Food FestivalZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

General Organization

This wasn’t slapdash. The organizers set up credit card machines for the food trucks and concessions. The venue had strategically placed rubbish bins. The tables and chairs lining the bridge were nice. The staff of volunteers were vigilant about making sure everything was clean and orderly.

The Entertainment

The girls waited in line for a balloon animal and then rushed off to…

Balloon animal clowns. K-Pop acts. That made this more of a festival and not just a bunch of food snobs milling about.

The Beverages

This was good and bad. There was a section with a Stella Artois tent, pouring W5,000 beers. There were also wine vendors offering tastings and selling bottles for decent prices.


That was the only place you could get a drink other than Sprite. Sprite was not only a sponsor, they were the one party dictatorship of this festival. Some people were smarter than I and brought their own beverages. I did bring home a nice nosey bottle of California chardonnay for W18,000. Looking forward to popping that open.

The Food Trucks

Jian's ice cream at the Seoul Food FestivalZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

Food trucks in Seoul have had a short odd history. The Seoul government officially legalized them half-assedly a few years ago. As in, it was legal to have one but not legal to park one. They can only operate in fake pre-planned events. It’s difficult for them to get a following, and it’s also difficult for them to get consistent feedback to improve their food. Because frankly, most of the food from them sucked.

Sucked hard.

Most of the food trucks spent more time on their looks and branding than on the actual food. They followed the long tradition of copying other concepts. Not only did most of them copy foreign concepts–badly, I must say–but they copied local concepts, like the Steak-in-a-Cup. That was bad, too.

This goes along with another of my consistent rants. If something works, don’t fuck with it. If there’s a standard dish you are trying to emulate, get the basics down first, and then do variations. Don’t start with the variations. With the Steak-in-a-Cup concept, just a well-seasoned steak with some fries will do. Instead, we got under seasoned steak with nasty onions in sweet gochujang and pumpkin mousse baby food. I didn’t find one truck just doing simple steak and potatoes.

A fish and chips truck just didn’t even try. Well, they tried with their cool British packaging and the overused “Keep Calm and _______” slogan that went stale a decade ago. The sad thing is, if they just did a simple traditional British fish and chips dipped in batter, not only would it have tasted better, they would have saved money. Instead, we got overly greasy cod and shrimp that weren’t fresh, covered in panko bread crumbs, skinny fries (not thick British pub chips, which are easily available–we had them at one of my restaurants), a wedge of lemon, and a choice of tartare, sweet chili, and some other sauce that shouldn’t go NEAR fish and chips.

The result was an inedible greasy mess that no one enjoyed. I keep hearing arguments that they’re catering to the local clientele, but there were NO LOCAL CLIENTELE! No one liked their food. Just some simple beer battered cod, thick cut chips, lemon, vinegar, and a tartare sauce that wasn’t just mayonnaise with a little pickle relish would have done much better.

The Pho truck charged just as much as a brick-and-mortar restaurant but gave much less. Just noodles, MSG-laden broth, and a few scraps of meat. Hardly any veggies. In a cardboard bowl. The point of a food truck is to make something either cheaper than bricks-and-mortars or better than other street food, or both. This is the typical case of Korean wanna-bes copying a concept without bothering to UNDERSTAND the concept.

(I hear that’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines “Cultural Appropriation,” but I guess Asian countries are exempt from that label.)

Jian's first CubanoZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

Jian’s first Cubano

Food Trucks and Gender Politics?

I observed this. The best food we had came from trucks run by women. I had a lovely Pork Banh Mi with good bread, lots of cilantro, full of meat. The Cubano had no honey mustard or sweet pickles. My daughter Jian took it and devoured the whole thing after her first bite.

I may be truly reaching on this, but this is just from observation and conversations with Koreans I’ve had for over 13 years inside Korea.

Women in Korea are way more open-minded than men. Korea has one of the largest gender gaps of any OECD member country. Women are not satisfied with traditional Korean social norms, so they have looked outward. This is why Sex and the City and Manhattan brunch culture took hold. This is why women drive the trends in Korea.

I’d say this is also why girls and women do better than their male counterparts in learning new languages. I remember reading Chomsky or some other linguistic scholar stating that when learning a new language, one must become more flexible with their self identity. Your native language is part of your identity. For a lot of Korean males, learning foreign languages makes them feel less Korean. I’ve had students blatantly say this. They don’t like learning English because they feel less Korean.

Because Korean women are more open-minded to non-Korean cultures, they take more interest in understanding the culture behind the food they’re appropriating. The men care more about looking cool and gaining social status. That’s why a food truck run by women made such a great Banh Mi while the food trucks run by men made the saddest fish and chips in the world and bland steak with pumpkin baby food–all while trying to pose as DJs in their spare time.

Yuk ChefZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

When the Korean and English each make sense

Besides–come on! At least give me a challenge when I’m writing the jokes.


I touched on this in the last section. In Korean language blogs talking about the festival, they also had a problem with this. The prices for a lot of the food trucks was jacked up. We wanted to sign Jian up for a kids cooking course, but they charged W50,000 per child, and to cook what? A hamburger? OMG!

Only a few people shelled out the money for that in the end. Hardly anyone participated.

This is the old thinking. It’s the notion that slapping a high price tag on something makes it automatically desirable (note: Cho Tae-kwon, Hwayo, and Gaon). In the past, noveau riche Koreans gladly lined up and paid premium prices for mediocre food because they wanted to show off their wealth. It was a status play. These days, younger Koreans are more concerned with value. So this festival with their premium-for-crap strategy, organized by the older establishment-thinking ajosshies, didn’t josh well with the mostly younger attendees.


My family met our friends, an Englishman of Korean decent, who is one of the largest Korean food importers in Europe, and a Korean lawyer. We all immediately commented on how sparse the attendance was. The lawyer–whose opinions on food and Korean culture I heed intensely–said that the marketing failed. No one knew about this event. *I* didn’t know about this event, and I get spammed all the time by these types of things. It was the Englishman who told me about it.

The festival’s website looked decent and modern. It was WordPress–likely the Divi theme, as we use on this blog. But the content was the same stolid old Korean corporate style. All talk of branding and corporate organization trees–as if they were marketing to shareholders and not consumers. The organizers consisted of Chosun TV execs, Korean government officials, and university professors. No one from the restaurant private sector. They even spelled one of the K-Pop group’s names wrong, the one they called “Korea’s Top Idol.”

I guess they weren’t top enough for anyone to know how to spell their name.


Sitting on the river at the Seoul Food Festival

That said, they did well. These events and the Seoul food scene is constantly getting better. It was well organized. Despite 80% of the food trucks we tried disappointing us, we loved having the variety to choose from while sitting on a nice table in the middle of the Han River on a gorgeous day. That pizza I will remember all the way to my dying breath.

The ajosshies-in-charge just need to get their marketing act together, they need to expand the beverage options, and the need to cut back on the silly cliche photo stunts that make respected chefs look like dancing monkeys. I wish something could be done about food truck laws so that these trucks can get some actual experience in the wild, thus improving their food and weeding out the poseurs.

I hope to go to next year’s festival. I’m optimistic that it will be even better.

Seoul Food FestivalZenKimchi | ZenKimchi

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