Sabor de Soledad

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.

Exactly. (courtesy of the best place on the internet)

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:

Perdon?

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.

Ahora con mas semen del toro!

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.

**Ditto.

17 responses to “Sabor de Soledad

  1. Indeed, most of my close American friends are similarly constantly in search of decent Mexican (my Canadians… search for good pho, or maybe shwarma. I would kill a man for good shwarma). The E-mart near their apartment has probably never so quickly sold through its stock of avacados and limes since their arrival.

    When confronted by Korean style Mexican, my heart sinks as though it was nachos, Flanders style. “That’s cucumbers with cottage cheese!” At what point does it stop actually being nachos and become something a Korean once heard of third-hand and decided to attempt to recreate on a plate?

    • I too would kill a man for shwarma. And couscous. And hummus and baba ghanouj.

      And an excellent question, when DOES it become something unrecognizable from what it was intended to be? The “bagel pizzas” at Paris Baguette are an excellent example. Bagel, ketchup, corn, imitation crab, cheesy-esque something, peppers (?), mayonnaise.

      Food abominations.

      • My grandmother used to make a dessert my family lovingly called “barf bars” because of how they looked. When I see Paris Baguette bagel pizzas, I see barf bars, except without the redeeming factor of actually tasting delicious. They look as though someone through things that had collected at the bottom of a fridge together at high speed dozens of feet in the air.

        On a separate note, they sometimes have garlic bread there, a giant, brick-shaped monster dusted with sugar and a little frosting. I think I’ve been in Korea too long already, as my senses no longer recognize this as horrible, but actually kind of tasty.

  2. When you are back in the states and come to visit Chicago, I will prepare a Mexican feast.

  3. Or, you know, I’ll save myself the trouble and we can go to one of the 170 taquerias within a half mile radius of any given point in the city.

    • God I miss Rogers Park for that very reason.

      Megan and I did a “Let’s list all the kinds of ethnic food we used to eat in our neighborhood!” retrospective the other day. It only depressed me. But yes, on the return tour (whenever that ends up being) to Chicago, I expect Tamale Guy at the very least, and a Jake-prepared chili/mexico feast at the very most! Hurrah!

  4. Hm, I reside in Texas. I can throw a rock and hit a Taqueria truck. I don’t even eat that much Mexican food, if I moved I doubt I’d miss it.

    • I guess I can’t speak for ALL americans, just the ones I rub elbows with. Maybe this shared burrito-lust is vital to my friendships. It’s what I seek in a mate.

      In Chicago my neighborhood was heavily mexican. Taquerias all over the place, and while I was a steady patron, I now regret not being more prolific in my guacamole consumption. As if I could store it in my cheek pouches like a hamster and bring it with me. Or something like that. I don’t know.

      However, if you’re considering coming to Korea, it’s a good thing you won’t mind the absence of Mexican. Now, can you live without tasty beer?

  5. I was able to find a not to bad Mexican restaurant in Itawon called Tres Amigos. I was kind of like Tex-Mex but more El Pasoish or New Mexico style. All in all… it wasn’t bad.

    I did have some corn and flour tortillas brought to me when my mom and friend visited. Having those are have the battle in trying to make decent Mexican food.

  6. THE BEST OF ALL YOUR POSTS!!! Laughed my ass off

  7. Wrong place in Gwangju for nachos! If you are in Gwangju again go to the First Alleyway downtown, they have a special of those 5lbs nachos (with real cheese and all the other items) you mentioned missing. It’s popular now, so it may make it to the permanent menu.

    • yessss oh please yesss. i’m a fan of the alleyway, but have never seen/had the nachos there. thank you for that blessed news!

  8. As a Canadian that grew up in North Carolina, I have an extreme addiction to authentic mexican food…I’m talkin’ like, I literally ate mexican food at the same restaurant every working day, without fail, for more than 3 years. That is an asston of mexican food.

    Anyways, I was disappointed when I came here and realized that I could no longer buy cheap sour cream to shovel in to my mouth straight out of the tub, no nacho necessary, or find readily available cheese without traveling for a couple hours.

    However, I have found some sense of relief for my ever present hunger for mexican.

    Dos Tacos in Gungnam and the Fuzzy Navel in Busan, the latter beating the cajones off of Dos Tacos.

  9. oh man, that’s awesome news. Planning to go to Busan soon too – now I have a real reason!

  10. sunshinefiasco

    I haven’t been there yet (only been in town a few days), but all the Daegu kids tout the Holy Grill. Check out their facebook page, the menu looks like something to behold.

  11. i’d have to vouch for dos tacos in gangnam as well! it’s not the best but it’s better than on the border. i’ve come to hate that place.

  12. The fact that nachos are famous in the U.S.A. but they are mexican…Read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nachos

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