that's just how it tastes
November 18, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

"Maybe meeting a new flavor is alchemy. Today, you can’t stand it. Tomorrow, it’s all you can stand. At home, using books like Sohui Kim’s “Korean Home Cooking,” I cooked stews. Minced garlic. Read about blending the flavors—combining chilies and anchovies until the spice bloomed the way that I liked, simmering until the heat of the red pepper was present without screaming. It was a privilege, I guess, growing to care so deeply about something that had nothing to do with my life. Only now, it did." Bryan Washington wrote and filmed about learning to make Soondubu Jiggae for the New Yorker.
posted by ChuraChura (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
That was lovely. It is both quite dusty in here and I am now famished.
posted by gwint at 8:45 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I appreciate that he served it in traditional soondubu bowls but I'm going to have to deduct 1 point for the Chinese soup spoons.
posted by cazoo at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

That's lovely. I've been learning to make various kinds of Korean stews and they are so easy and so rewarding. Starting with strong flavors like kimchi or doenjang (soybean paste) or gochujang (chili paste) gives you a huge head start. Not to mention dried anchovies or anchovy sauce. That stuff smells like cat shit. Literally, not a metaphor. But it sure does make things taste amazing.
posted by Nelson at 2:49 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

1. Adoption of/into a cuisine is a fuzzy concept that suggests both usage and lifetime familial relationship. I like.

2. As a Korean American I have lots of feels about how Korean food went from ew to ooh. Now to read TFA.

3. Nelson, please reconsider describing the smell as cat shit, even as you describe its deliciousness as an ingredient. Pungent. Overwhelming. (I know those aren't really the right words). I feel a twang of hurt even though I know you enjoy making Korean stews.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry, you're right the description is insulting. I usually love strong food smells, nothing's better smelling to me than a big funky garlicky kimchi with a bit of a fishy aroma to it. Pure anchovy sauce is.. it's a lot.
posted by Nelson at 6:44 PM on November 18, 2019

As a Korean American I have lots of feels about how Korean food went from ew to ooh.

Yooooo totally. I recently read a tweet that went something like:

"Oh, I just love aaaaauthentic Kimchi!" - white person today, who used to make fun of my Korean lunches in middle school 15 years ago"


I love the original article and video. Glad to see it here.

But, when I asked my dude about it, he just shrugged. He’s Korean; he’d grown up with this. It was whatever. I knew I’d reacted similarly when I’d introduced him to the city’s one acceptable Jamaican jerk spot: Yo, that’s just how it tastes. You jerk the chicken. You end up with jerk chicken. But now, standing on the other side, the nonchalance seemed absurd: how could anyone not be excited about soondubu jjigae? The heat echoed the flavors that I’d grown up with and contorted them.

And this. So grateful for the writer's relationship to food that can celebrate without fetishizing, rooted in an understanding of how we relate to others' food. Rooted in family, memory, relationships. It's so easy when there's that shorthand to relate to.

Sometimes I am strangely grateful (??) for the racism I've experienced. It's like: I think my experiences having Koreanness be fetishized/exoticized has given me a healthy relationship to food everywhere. I don't fetishize or exoticize, because I know what that's like. Food everywhere is both fantastic and mundane and special and totally everyday simultaneously, and I'm able to hold my appreciation. There's no authenticity or 'homeland' to look forward to, just memories and shared meals and relationships built on enjoying sharing a meal.
posted by suedehead at 7:40 PM on November 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

Mod note: I'm leaving the above comments, but just to make the point officially: don't say another culture's food smells like cat shit, even if you're meaning it in a positive context. In the new guidelines we specifically expect members of a dominant group to take extra care, and be respectful rather than exoticizing or jokey or insulting about another culture's touchstones like food, for exactly the reasons spelled out in the above comments.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:14 PM on November 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thank you for keeping the comments up, LobsterMitten - I think this is a great example of a conflict in a thread in which the conflict itself is part of the discussion at hand. Racist microaggressions about Asian or Korean food is part of an important conversation about food that we need to be having.

Strongly seconding anem0ne, whose anger I share. If I haven’t shared my own anger, it’s because I sadly start out with pessimism towards white people enjoying Korean food, and in this case was validated (unsurprisingly).

Nelson, I imagine you didn’t mean active harm. But let me deconstruct the logic a bit — because the “cat shit” comment is a classic, very common, textbook pattern. I’ve heard it a few hundred times before. It relies on a kind of “oh this food is sooo intense/gross/weird, and in fact because of that it’s actually sooo good and I like it” argument. It’s a kind of food machismo, very related to beliefs that eating the spiciest version of a food “proves” that they can “handle” the Authentic Homeland Food. It’s as if the food is ‘sooo scary and soo out there’ that the only way to enjoy it is not through noticing or listening to the taste, but through a kind of conquest - “gotta conquer the food by being so badass that I can even handle the disgusting parts that makes it taste so good”.

And this all is kind of pushed through a false sense of allyship - that it’s the hallmarks of a Good Person to like all sorts of other good, and that somehow you’re not allowed to not enjoy someone else’s food. So the result: “I’m a Good Person who is so Badass that they can really enjoy Weird Food”. And also, because the person saying this doesn’t assume or understand how their own sense of taste is culturally constructed, by naturalizing or universalizing their taste, other food becomes “Weird”.. because it doesn’t occur to them that they might be the Other, sometimes.

Authenticity works the same. I recently had to shut down a white person talking about how the restaurants in Brooklyn were too hipster compared to the Authentic Street Food Places In Indonesia They Had Recently Traveled Too. There’s no authenticity. Authenticity is usually virtue-signaling with food, tokenizing food as if it were an opportunity to demonstrate one’s openness.

It’s worthwhile asking - why is Korean food connected to this kind of machismo, for you? What latent assumptions about Asianness or Koreanness are operating within your way of thinking? How come the analogy (“cat shit”) is so derogatory, yet you decided to use it anyways? If you feel like derogatory comments about Korean food is okay, where does that come from? Do you feel like your own food is “safe”, while others’ food is “dangerous”? If so, where do you think this fear comes from?

And most importantly: how has your whiteness played an active (yet probably unconscious) part in shaping the way you see yours and others’ food?

Again, that’s why the article gets it so right, at least to me. A black man learns how to love and cook 순두부찌개 from his relationship with a Korean lover, who is clearly still meaningful to him (even if he handwaves the breakup away). It’s connected to his memories growing up. He celebrates it without fetishizing it, or at least, knows what it’s like to share something totally familiar and have others get excited by it. And in the end, the cooking is a way to share with his mother, with family. Food isn’t machismo or virtue signaling or a token. Food is about sharing memories and caring for each other.

To me it is not a coincidence that a non-white person wrote this article. Rather, I think only a person who isn’t white could write such a thoughtful piece. Right now in 2019, I kind of think that only or mostly IBPOC have the sense of intention, thoughtfulness, and care about racial and cultural differences that is healthy. That’s one of our forms of strength and grace and wisdom.

I sincerely and earnestly look forward to a future when this isn’t true, and when white people can learn how to be so as well. I think part of it is naming and explaining a microaggression, trying to call you in, and letting you see how much you have lost, and how much you could learn. So here I am, trying.
posted by suedehead at 11:39 PM on November 18, 2019 [14 favorites]

Thank you, Suedehead and anem0ne and spamandkimchi.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:12 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm listening to what folks are saying and trying to learn something. I'm certain I don't have anything useful to add to the discussion. I'm grateful for the thoughtful comments here.
posted by Nelson at 6:54 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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