Friends, we are fast approaching the 6 month mark in this, the Year of Korea. This is a time of reflection, to pause and note what I have learned about this foreign land, its people, myself, and others like me, in our self-imposed exile. As I sit here in my lotus position upon my mountaintop pondering these things, I have come to one conclusion about displaced Americans:
Our greatest common passion is the pursuit of legit Mexican food.
We go to extraordinary lengths in the service of this insatiable hunger. We take hour long train rides in Seoul to an On the Border (a scurrilous Tex-Mex chain I would turn my nose up at Stateside, but such are the concessions one must make in Korea…) for a 20 minute dinner, bottomless chips and salsa, and Modelo. We stay up til 4 am in order to sample the wares of the legendary Hongdae taco truck (Remember?). We fashion excuses to gather and construct enchiladas and quesadillas in cramped Korean kitchens, combining our cheese stores, swilling Coronas and wondering why it’s so hard to find a ripe avocado in these parts. Even on vacation in Switzerland, my American friend couldn’t help but bring up how unfulfilled he was without access to chorizo.
Despite our perseverance, our damnedest efforts put forth, the Real Thing has remained elusive.
It is therefore incredibly painful to speak of Korean takes on Mexican food. First, one must understand that Koreans approach food from a health standpoint: eat this because it is nutritious and benefits you in X and Y ways, even if it tastes like Neptune’s butt (…because everything tastes like ocean here. Keep up with me people, I shouldn’t have to explain my jokes to you punks.). Americans approach food from the pleasure side of things: make it taste good and give me more. At heart, we are a nation of hedonistic walruses. Example: say an American discovers an opportunity in Gwangju to order nachos* at a restaurant. American eagerly anticipates a mess of tortilla chips piled with about 14 c. of delicious ingredients including, but not limited to: meats, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, jalapenos. The American believes the dish should weigh no less than 5 lbs. and require a waiter with hypertrophied biceps to deliver it. But this is what the American receives:
8 individually decorated chips, displayed in an aesthetically pleasing ring. Heavy on vegetables, low on meat, nothing in excess. Korea, this American walrus knows you’re better than her, but it’s still kind of weird to make little chip pizzas and call them nachos and trick me into eating them. And then there was this, a shot in the dark for something like Doritos** and the inspiration for this post. A foul, sweet, disgusting turn on something billed as “Maekshikan tacoe” flavored, but that tasted like a churro rolled in cheeto powder. I hate you, Dodohan chips.You might look the part, but the Asian chick in the sombrero belies your true nature.
We few, we happy few, we band of gringos! There is no hope, but still we search. Search for the mythical taco stand that will sate us somewhere in the heart of Asia. So on. On we ride. On into the friscalating dusk light.
*We at TWD are fully aware that nachos are not authentically Mexican.