Harper’s Bazaar (Korean edition) came out with its September edition in all its thick perfumed glory this week.
They had a feature where they asked expat professionals in different fields about living in and visiting Seoul. ZenKimchi longtime friend Michael “Feetman Seoul” Hurt is in the article.
I’m at the end of the piece. My Korean isn’t good enough to translate it word for word, but I understood most of the article, and EJ helped with some parts. Here’s a quick summary of the interview.
- Even though the weather was hot and humid, Joe soldiered on with a smile. With that kind of appearance, he looked generous. We almost called him “Joe Ajosshi” because he was so friendly looking. Joe McPherson is famous as a Korean food blogger, starting in 2004 as the founding editor of the ZenKimchi Korean Journal. Some foreigners don’t know about Korean food. He introduces it to them. He is a kind of “waygyogwan,” or diplomat. He claims that samgyetang is “boring” food and that Korean food is about burning fire. He is also one of the only fans of gobchang in the world. He is a poetic gourmet in his critiques of food. But he says, “I’m not a critic. I’m only a person who writes about food. I’m a Korean food enthusiast.” He’s also sorry about the demise of Pimatgol street and is worried that Korean peasant food might die out. Joe McPherson reminds us to think of what we could lose. And he is a definite friend we want beside us.
- No, Korean food isn’t too spicy. Americans have spicy food too (hot wings, gumbo).
- Barbecue and peasant cuisine, along with the general excitement of lively restaurants, are the star attractions of Korean food right now (not royal court cuisine and “topokki”)
- Mapo is my favorite neighborhood in Seoul for food
- What about Gangnam?
- Sure, if you like Starbucks. When my family visited, my dad liked the historical stuff; my older brother (small error there), who is a chef, liked the food; my mother liked the nightlife.
- The 24-hour play culture in Seoul comes from the attitude of Koreans to work hard and play hard.
- What’s the most “shocking” thing about nightlife in Seoul?
- 1-cha, 2-cha, 3-cha and the “bang” culture
- Not Love Motels?
- No way. When my family came last year, I put them up in a love motel, and they loved it. It had everything that westerners find appealing that the more expensive hotels neglect: HD televisions, computers in each room with free internet, free drinks in the fridge, hot tubs. And they’re even cleaner than some of the “fancy” western hotels.
- What is appealing about people in Seoul?
- Generosity. Before I met my wife, I was stood up by my girlfriend at the time. I went all the way home by myself, sulking. As I passed by my local BBQ Chicken place, the ajosshi saw that I was a bit down and gave me a Coke to cheer me up.
- There’s an old saying that to know someone you should know what they eat. What does the food say about Seoulites?
- If I had to compare it to Japanese food–Japanese concentrate on how the food looks. Koreans concentrate on how the food tastes. It also has a great peasant quality that speaks to an international audience. When I spoke to the Korean government about promoting it, they were more interested in more Japanese-style pretentious food. The best food in the world comes from hunger. For example, the food from Provence comes from poor farm folks. Mexican food, which is gaining worldwide popularity and respect, comes from ancient people who were making do with what they had. Korea’s greatest food comes from its peasantry, which the government thinks of as shameful. So they want to hide that kind of food and feel shame. That’s why places like Pimatgol street get torn down. I wanted to introduce people to Pimatgol, but it’s gone. I feel very sorry about that. Also people who live in Seoul feel bad about it. So we should protest about things like that. To tell you the truth, foreigners living in Korea feel sorry about that. That is actually an issue among foreigners. The government tries to act wealthy, and they feel shame about their own history. When I talked to a government representative related to Lonely Planet, the official wanted them to remove any mention of budae jjigae.
- Explain Seoul in one sentence.
- It really wakes you up. This is how I felt when I came to Korea. When I was in America, I felt very old and sleepy and bored. I got tired of the same old routine. But when I came to Korea, I felt awake.