Friday, May 8, 2009

Kimchi Jjigae among the world's spiciest foods.

So says ForbesTraveller.com, anyway. From the slideshow:
What make the dish-slash-condiments so potent are the dried red chili peppers which form a near lethal combination during pickling process with the piquant cabbage.

24 comments:

kushibo said...

Kimchi tchigae is one of my least favorite foods, but that's mostly because I don't care for kimchi all that much. Kimchi fried rice comes in a close second.

Sundubu is much better, I think. Not nearly as spicy either.

From the Forbes article:

“We use Red Savina peppers which are among the very hottest in the world,” says the original creator of the wings’ potent sauce, Chef Robin Rosenberg. “We get the extract of the pepper from India. Then, we kick it up another notch with different chilies to layer the flavor!”

Flavor? How can anyone taste the flavor that way? Sometimes I think people just eat/make super spicy stuff for the bragging rights. Like some sort of dice-measuring contest.

Roboseyo said...

Brian! Can you eat spicy food?

Brian said...

It's timely because in our book's Chapter four it has the following exchange:

Q: Do you want some kimchi?
A: No thanks, it's too hot.

I have a bone to pick with Forbes. It has set our work to convince Koreans that we can eat Korean food back thirty years.

kushibo said...

I have a bone to pick with Forbes. It has set our work to convince Koreans that we can eat Korean food back thirty years.

Ahem... while I am sure it is annoying to be constantly asked if you can eat spicy food (it would be more pleasant if they asked, "You don't mind spicy food, do you?", right?), face the facts that on this regard Westerners who can tolerate or even relish the level of spiciness in Korea's kochu-laden dishes are outliers.

I'm no fan of spicy food, so I always thought I would be a fair gauge for foreign visitors to Korea or non-Koreans I take to a Korean restaurant in Hawaii or Orange County... but no, I'm constantly having to reorder someone's food, or go into a long verification with the restaurant staff that some dish contains nothing spicy, or watching someone meticulously pick out each and every piece of red pepper in some dish.

Worse is the people (usually Midwesterners) who can't stomach seafood of any kind. I forgot what it was, but one American I took to Minsokchon tossed without eating a whole bowl of what was quite delicious stew, because it appeared the ajumma had missed one tiny shellfish. It turned out to be a piece of mushroom, but by then this person's appetite was ruined (and, no, this was not an allergy).

Two food-related things I cannot stand in Korea: (1) foreigners picking at their food while whining that they can't eat it and (2) Koreans eating a non-Korean, non-Japanese, meal and complaining about not having rice and/or how greasy it is (usually older people and/or people who lost out in the "where shall we eat today?" consensus).

Sheesh. It's not like someone's force-feeding this to you all the freaking time.

Roboseyo said...

Sure, it might be the outliers of the mainland North American population that could handle the pure Korean fire... but there comes a point where that assumption must be put to rest, say, after an expat has lived in Korea above a certain amount of time.

The thing that bothers me about the spicy food question isn't that it's asked, it's that people ask me whether I like Korean food, or can eat spicy food, three seconds after I've told them I've lived in Korea for six years, and enjoy living here. After three months, the statute of limitations on "can you eat Korean food" should run out. I've lived here six years. What do you think, dumbass? That I've survived for six years on Joe Sandwich and Pizza Hut, and Kimchi still looks spicy and smells weird to me?

And in the same way "So, are you from America?" rankles, while "where are you from?" doesn't, "Can you eat spicy food" annoys me, while "Would you like some kimchi jigae?" doesn't. It's all about the assumptions being made about me that are revealed by the question.

ROK Hound said...

"spicy" and "containing spices" are not the same.

With a few exceptions, Korean food is the latter, not the former.

brent said...

I think what is lost is what is flavorful vs. adding as much gochujang as possible. I think most of the Korean women prefer the former and men here prefer the latter.

kushibo said...

Well, there are a couple things at work here. First, it seems you're assuming that your case — getting used to spicy food the longer one has been here — is basically a universal. The hundreds of foreigners I've known in such a way that this would come up (including a few kyopo who don't like spicy food) tells me it's a mixed bag.

There is no statute of limitations for loads of Westerners in Korea. When I've had to ferry around Westerners for certain weekend events, at one point I gave up on even suggesting Korean food because of the utter intolerance for "spicy" Korean food by some of the people involved, who had been in Korea for one to as many as ten years.

A mixed bag, and many native Koreans have picked up on that. It's not some stereotype Koreans pulled out of the collective national butt one day.

The second thing going on here is the very different way in which sentences are softened. I wrote about the Do you know Chusok? phenomenon here (I should update and elaborate on that one), but it applies here with, for example, a softened 매운 음식 괜찮죠? or 매운 음식 먹을 수 있죠? becoming a much more blunt (and annoying sounding) "spicy food is okay?" or "Can you eat spicy food?"

It's not always that way, but even people who know better can fail to properly "culturally" translate a sentence that sounds much better in Korean than it comes out in English.

kushibo said...

ROK Hound wrote:
"spicy" and "containing spices" are not the same.

With a few exceptions, Korean food is the latter, not the former
.

For the record, I'm considering "spicy" food as 매운 food, typically something with 고춧가루 or 고추장 in it.

But you're right, that's actually a limited segment of Korean food. Nevertheless, Kimchi tchigae and kimchi fried rice, among other things, are within that definition, and kimchi tchigae was the original topic.

sonagi92 said...

I agree with Roboseyo. The foreigners I socialized with had lived in Korea a few years, and we all enjoyed most Korean dishes, including the various kimchi side dishes.

I also agree with ROK Hound that "spicy" and " 매운" aren't quite the same thing. In the words of an Indian chef who came to Seoul to cook for a food festival, Korean food is not spicy but hot because of the peppers.

nb said...

Kimchi jjigae...I don't like it. I think it is made with kimchi that is going stale and sour. I love kimchi, but only freshly made.
The thing that pisses me off is the Borg mentality of Korean thinking. The Hive KNOWS what every foreigner on the planet doesn't like to eat. I was in a Chinese restaurant run by Koreans in L.A. once. At the next table were about 6 guys speaking Korean. The waitress came over and gave us about 2 side dishes and the other table had like 5 or 6. I asked why we didn't get kimchee and KKackdoogi. "Foreigners don't like that." "How do you know?! Do you know me?" I replied in Korean. I went out front to talk to the manager who had the same answer. Every Korean is a copy of a copy of a copy, as Chuck Palaniuk said.

t_song said...

I've always tried to separate spicy and hot.

매운탕 or 김치찌개 are hot.

불떡 or 딹발 are spicy.

Anywho, most Koreans think non-Koreans would not at all like Korean food, maybe because of the smell or the spiciness. I am Korean, and I absolutely hated kimchi until I was almost in college. I was pretty much harrassed by my relatives, who basically told me: 너 한국 사람 아니지? Nevermind that my sister loved picked kimchi, relishing in the Korean glory. haha

So yah, even Koreans ask Koreans repeatedly, can/do you like spicy food? And I have plenty of relatives who just stay away from spicy food--who were born and raised in Korea.

So I think it's a bit -- a bit -- of Westerners yearning for some type of Korean acceptance, by being very sensitive, as Roboseyo (love your blog BTW) mentions, when Koreans ask them if they like Korean food--even though they've lived there for a long time. (That said, some gyopo friends of mine basically eat American food ALL the time and don't feel insecure about it)

However, I think if you ask in Korean to make the food very spicy, or affirm that you can eat the spiciest of foods (say 불떡 with good pronunciation and I'm sure that will win you like Korean food street cred), and you'll be served just like a native!

Roboseyo said...

T_song: not a bad idea: go for the street cred version. From now on, when the Korean waitress warns me that it's spicy, I'll just tell her, "불떡 도 먹을 수있어요"

Yearning for acceptance? Maybe for some. More to have the amount of time I've spent here acknowledged somehow. ("Do you know bulgogi?") I've also met Koreans who admit (usually in hushed tones) that they don't like kimchi or spicy food, and plenty who say they can't drink alcohol...but the thing that gets me is that Koreans get the benefit of the doubt, and the chance to turn up their nose at spicy food before other Koreans make thoughtless comments about it, while the color of my skin causes them to assume I can't take the heat...and offer me a goddamn fork. (actually, to be fair, the fork offer has become less frequent, but the spicy warning still happens so darn much).

thanks for liking my blog, t_song.

t_song said...

@robo
Sure, no prob for giving the mad props. The multi-series with you and thekorean were gold.

But while a person with White skin gets offered a fork or asked whether they can eat spicy food in Korea, as a Korean-American, I often get asked:

1) Where are you from? No, like, where are you really from--like your ancestry? (Or, where are your parents from?)

2) Hey--do you speak English?

It happens. On the same hand, I wonder why after being here for 6 years, you need some type of acknowledgment? I mean, you speak Korean (though put 잘 before 먹을 수 있다. and I would add the ending 거든요 if you wanted to be a little smart alecky) and I'm sure you've been lavishly praised for that!

From another POV, it's interesting that native Koreans always cringe when I say "We Americans" or "Because I'm American," because American, as you know, means White. Haha.

fchoi said...

I have to agree with t_song there. I'm a born and raised New Yorker (and ethnically Korean) and even I always get the "where are you really from?" question. Also, my dad's friend works for Hyundai and when he moved to whatever area in the US Hyundai has factories, the "real Americans" were surprised that he could speak English fluently...so at the end of the day, expats complain (not without reason, mind you)about how living in SK for a significant length of time should earn them some measure of acceptance or acknowledgment. But honestly? I've lived with that kind of attitude my whole life in a country where everyone supposedly is American regardless of what one looks like. Caucasians in Korea being asked if they're Americans (as opposed to other nationalities) is the same thing as me being asked "are you Chinese? are you Japanese?"
Whatever assumptions that Koreans make may not be justified to varying degrees, but Americans really have even less of an excuse...I love reading expat blogs because they really show another angle to issues, but sometimes I just get a sense irritation and hypocrisy.

sonagi92 said...

my sister loved picked kimchiIs there any other kind? I've never tried kimchi that wasn't pickled.

ROK Hound said...

I have to agree with t_song there. I'm a born and raised New Yorker (and ethnically Korean) and even I always get the "where are you really from?" question.Whites get that too, or at least we did where I grew up. My hometown was an ethnically diverse** place (French, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, and a few other enclaves around town), small though it was. And while people would never come out and say "So, which one are you?" they would ask which part of ton you lived in, which amounted to the same thing.

Course, I screwed them up a little. I lived in the Italian section of town, but my family had a French name.


**although, it was almost all white; not exactly a lot of blacks or Asians back then; totally different now, of course.

t_song said...

@sonagi
Ummm, pickled was only used as a bad play on words where relished followed shortly thereafter. It amused me, slightly, at like 9:43 a.m., so I kept it there.

fchoi said...

ROK hound:
lol. That reminds me of a friend of mine who was Belgian-French but grew up in Montreal. All francophone but still really confusing...

sonagi92 said...

I was actually told once, "You speak English really well." The speaker was an ethnic Portuguese hotel owner in Malaysia. She heard me conversing with my Colombian travel partner in Spanish and presumed Spanish was my native language. My Spanish has never been native-like. It's probably that if Euro-looking people are seen conversing in a language other than English, it's presumed that none of them are from an English-speaking country because otherwise, they'd be speaking the world's most widely spoken language (widely denotes geographical spread, not number of speakers).

kushibo said...

So, Sonagi, you are a Spanish-looking Wendy? Pics or it didn't happen! ;)

The more I think of it, the more I think this thing that annoys some peole isn't all that unreasonable, though it is something that image-minded Koreans in the service industry should work on.

I think that oegugin in Korea largely fall into four categories: (a) those that came to Korea already appreciating Korean food, including 매운 Korean food; (b) those that did not know much or anything about Korean food but came to like it after being Korea, including 매운 Korean food; (c) those who came to Korea not knowing much about Korean food and gaining an appreciation for it, except 매운 Korean food; and (d) those who came to Korea and never gained an appreciation for any food, including 매운 food.

If you're the wait staff or proprietor of a restaurant, how do you know which one is which? Do you err on the side of caution by not making things too spicy (and risk making that person feel excluded or spotlighted, though most Koreans probably wouldn't be aware of that risk, not living the life of a visible minorities themselves), or do you just give them what everybody else gets and risk them being dissatisfied or even testy because you've made it too 매워?

Ditto with the offers of forks, though I've rarely encountered that when I brought groups of White people out to eat, if we ordered in Korean. When someone in the group needed forks, we've usually had to ask. And if a restaurant actually has forks, it's because someone else before you has needed them, so it's not like they're pulling this stereotype out of their arse.

I've eaten with plenty of groups where a segment (say, 1 or 2 out of 5 or 6 people) were in category C or D. Many of them after being in Korea for years. There are a lot of people who don't like 매운 food no matter how much they're exposed to it, but they'll usually find something in Korean food they generally like (thus they end up as C). Some folks never get over the different vegetables, the preponderance of fish, etc., and they stay a D. Even if the C's and D's in Korea form a minority of all oegugin, I don't think they're such a small group that they would be outliers.

In other words, restaurant staff would easily encounter that type. And it can be very unpleasant — even when there's a mediator between the Korean staff and the C or D oegugin — to resolve this. I've been with people acting extremely childish, for example making a point of exaggeratingly scooping out kochujang and any rice or vegetables touching it, to make a visible point to the waitress who had brought the pibimbap (and it wasn't clear whether the "non-spicy" version was requested).

From the Korean end, one or two people making a fuss over 매운 or fishy food out of a group of five, six, or seven can exaggerate the impression of how widespread the 먹을 수 없는 tendency is. Instead of "that person" it's that group. Of course, this is a failure of the Korean staff's perception, but I'm just pointing out that it's easy for that to happen.

At the end of the day, it's easier to make a non-매운 thing into a 매운 thing than the opposite. The restaurant staff may well know this from direct experience. I'm not going to fault them for erring on the side of caution.

Frankly, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask if you need a fork, if you don't mind it spicy, if you can eat this or that. Asking is not presuming; it's obtaining more information. If you're upset or annoyed by that, then you're upset and annoyed that some of your fellow countrymen or women before you have planted seeds of doubt that oegugin can eat all the exact same foods a typical Korean can in the exact same way with no alterations requested.

When they don't ask but just bring you the fork or not add the kochujang to your pibimbap, well, that's more presumptuous, but I still don't find it that unreasonable.

kushibo said...

About the 매운/spicy thing, I think the big problem is that this is one of those rare cases where simple English is ambiguous.

Calling 매운 food "spicy" is ambiguous because "spicy" can meet full of non-매운 spices, or it can mean painfully 매워.

[spicy means "having the flavor, aroma, or quality of spice." The kochu in its various forms are considered a spice. Forbes almost certainly was referring to this meaning when they said "spicy," though it could be misleading.]

If you say "hot," well that leads to a whole other ambiguity. If someone serves you some unknown food and says, "Careful, that's hot," it could be 뜨거운 hot or 매운 hot.

Even "pungent" is ambiguous, since it can refer to 매운 kochu or it can refer to the smell of something like fried onions.

I'm not going to fault people for saying (a lot of) Korean food is spicy, since, in one widely accepted meaning of the word, it clearly is. But as far as having spicy flavors, no, I would not say that Korean food is one of the most spicily flavored food in the world, not standard fare, anyway.

With a few notable items, the most common Korean foods are either 매워 or they're bland. If they're not salty.

kushibo said...

nb wrote:
Kimchi jjigae...I don't like it. I think it is made with kimchi that is going stale and sour. I love kimchi, but only freshly made.

I think that's the point of kimchi tchigei and kimchi-bokkŭmbap: They're a way of cooking up and getting rid of kimchi before it goes bad.

Once it goes bad, it won't prevent SARS. ;)

nb said...

"Once it goes bad, it won't prevent SARS. ;)"

Yes, it still will.
Don't you know kimchi?
It is a magical health food.