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Scavenger Hunt Task 6A: Non-Korean food in Korea

Abrupt Departure, TacoChilliChilli, Mexican food, Dongdaemun, Seoul, Korea

Back in California, I eat two types of food on a weekly (daily?) basis: Chinese food and Mexican food. Considering the geographic and historical context in which I now live, I invite you, Dear Reader, to wager a guess as to which of these dietary pillars is harder to come by in Korea. Need a hint? There are no tortilla chips in the supermarket.

Survey says… Mexican food!

Duh, right? I mean, before I’m accused of coming to Korea with wildly unrealistic expectations, let me assure you all that I was not surprised by the dearth of Mexican food. Living in London disabused me of any wishful thinking regarding the global availability of pozole and hand-made chicken tamales*, so because South Korea is WAY more culturally homogenous than London, I said goodbye to cochinita pibil along with the rest of my loved ones when I left California. However, not wishing to miss out on an awesomely awesome opportunity, I popped by the local purveyor of fine Mexican cuisine, TacoChiliChili, to inflicted upon myself a meal that would most certainly be a disappointment. Looking at the posters plastered all over the building, it seemed a perfect candidate for Scavenger Hunt Task 6A, sampling the Korean interpretation of a non-American, non-Asian menu item. This fast-food chain is Korean enough that I have been able to find neither an English nor a Korean website to link to, but if you need a frame of reference, imagine taking a half-step up from TacoBell. Again, I KNOW. Neither this nor TacoBell is real Mexican food, but I’ll visit the classier joints at some later date when my need for the cuisine of my homeland is greater. Just then, that food needed eating.

Although nachos appeared on the menu, I wanted to go with something more substantial and less punishing, so instead, I ordered a chicken enchilada (pictured above). Here is the establishment’s helpful enchilada schematic:

Cheese… sauce?

It wasn’t… terrible. Pretty much the most dangerous psychological mistake an expat can make is to expect anything to be like it’s American corollary. Having learned that the first time I lived abroad, I went into this dining experience anticipating something strange, but overall, it wasn’t that weird. Essentially, just as all cities share a common “citiness,” all fast-food Mexican chains share a common shittiness: the tortillas were thick and doughy like the discount brand sold at the discount supermarket; the chicken had somehow been cooked to the consistency of rehydrated turkey jerky; the enchilada’s population of beans had been pushed to near extinction; and the cheese sauce was cheese sauce. Really, the strangest element was the “onion pickle,” which had been marinated in soy sauce and sugar. Sort of a teriyaki take on the pickled onions of Mexico. Did I eat the enchilada? Yes. Will I be revisiting TacoChiliChili? Not on your life.

Honestly, if TacoChiliChili had somehow been delicious, I think I’d have been disappointed. That would’ve meant that even the cultural codes that govern crappy fast food were different. At least this way, I know that up is up, that down is down and that cheese sauce is still gross. As appetitive gratification, TacoChiliChili was sub-edible. As cultural reassurance, TacoChiliChili gave me exactly what I was looking for: easy coherency.

Credit for this scavenger hunt item goes to Elaine!

*Not that nachos are authentic Mexican food, but in London, I once had the misfortune of ordering a plate of nachos made with Cool Ranch Doritos. From that sorry fact you can extrapolate the rest…

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. secret santa #

    Wondering if there is such a thing as pancakes in Korea? Or crepes? Something like enchilada but filled with other things. Maybe the ingredients are there and could be made at home. That is when you get your cooking stuff. I’m dying to hear about the cooking class you took. Keep up the great writing–so entertaining.

    March 6, 2012
    • I am actually working on a post about waffles in Korea. They are EVERYWHERE. I’ve visited two of three waffle retailers, so as soon as I come out of this most recent sugar coma, I’ll head over to the last one and post my review.

      March 6, 2012
  2. Jim Jam #

    I feel a little guilty that I live in the heart of Mexican food land and completely fail to take advantage of it. If only I accrued points for my access and I could transfer them to you. Is the scavenger list closed or can you take more torture tasks?

    March 6, 2012
  3. Teresa Godfrey #

    ok David–how about looking for a good bagel with smoked almon & chream cheese? or a potato knish? how about a NY-style Deli with good brown mustard? Good luck with the search.
    Josh & Teresa

    March 6, 2012
    • Oh God, that is a tall order… But I’ll do my best! They do have bagels and cream cheese ($5 for a 1 ounce container), but lox? And knishes? I better start researching now…

      March 6, 2012
  4. It is sort of like the time I made meatloaf and the only thing it had in common with normal meatloaf was the shape. But it was unusual, used up a lot of leftovers, and actually turned out tasty as a cold sandwich. That is what that enchilada you ordered was….weird. I would for sure leave off the cheese goo, but if their sour cream was any good, you could double that?

    March 7, 2012
  5. ElJump #

    “…nachos made with Cool Ranch Doritoes.” *shiver*

    I wonder if anyone in Korea makes po-boy sandwiches? I’m used to the Maryland version which features (perfectly) fryolated oysters on a sub roll, under a healthy heap of cole slaw. Further south, you’ll find they generally use shrimp or catfish instead. The trick, though, is getting the slaw *just* right. Make it too liquid and it disintegrates the sandwich but make it too thick and the mayonnaise overwhelms all other flavors. Oh, and of course, your seafood has to be came-off-the-boat-this-morning fresh.

    March 9, 2012
    • I will definitely investigate the po’boy situation, but I don’t have too much hope of finding one that strikes the balance you’ve described… That sort of fine tuning requires a cultural background that won’t be easy to find.

      You know where I had the best po’ boy of my life? Austin. I know, the Californian doesn’t get a vote, but this thing was AMAZING. Fried shrimp. Coleslaw. But the bread. She had bought par-baked rolls and then she DEEP FRIED them. It was amazing.

      March 9, 2012

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