Scavenger Hunt Task 6A: Non-Korean food in 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.
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:
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…