1/2/10

Foreign Food + People

A few days ago one of my coworkers mentioned that we were all going to an Indian restaurant on Friday night. Obviously, I wasn't present when this was discussed and the final decision was made. I didn't fuss about it because they said we'd sing after dinner...

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I have eaten all types of food. In particular, I love Chinese and Korean food. I have eaten Korean and Chinese food so many times that I no long consider them to be “foreign" food. I think they should be among the food groups…bread, meat, vegetables, Chinese food, Korean food.

So most food is not foreign to me. Food is food. I don’t care which country it was first eaten. Either I enjoy it or I don’t.

But there is one exception: Indian food. It is still foreign to me.

Foreign, as in, from now on I am going to eat a snack before going to eat Indian food.

Foreign, as in, I may eat at a different restaurant and meet up with friends and coworkers later.

Foreign, as in, next time I will just drink water as others eat.

Foreign, as in, I will never move to India.

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Most Indian food tastes bland to me. It may not be the food's fault. As I now say about politics, I don't have a particular label, I'm just an extremist, and extremely proud of it. When it comes to food, I like food that is at an extreme.

When I go to a new restaurant, I'm usually looking for the most extreme item on the menu. If there is goat on the menu then I'm trying it. Rabbit? Sorry, rabbit, I guess your foot wasn't lucky for you. Dog on the menu? Ruff!

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I like food that is really salty. Or really sweet. Or really bitter. I guess that's one reason Sweet & Sour Pork or Chicken sounds good even before I start eating. I like food that is at an extreme.

The one exception is really spicy food. Yes, that means there are some Korean dishes I avoid, but can still eat the spicy stuff when there are no other options.

But Indian food? Most of it tastes bland. The fancier the restaurant, the blander it is. Bland is not an extreme. What I can taste doesn’t taste good. I don't recall ever eating cardboard, but I have the feeling it would taste about the same as Indian food dipped in sauce. In fact, the only acceptable Indian food I've tasted are the sauces covering the food. Perhaps I should just eat the sauce next time?

Curry is fine, but it has to cover up the main dish. Last night's Shrimp pag Curry had potential. But that was all it had, potential.

I'm not saying Indian food is terrible, okay? Terrible is an extreme and bland can't be extreme. I'm just saying that I feel like I have wasted my money when I eat Indian food. 15,500 won (about $13) of mine is gone forever.

I would have been better off mailing the money to a homeless person in America.

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It isn't that I haven't tried various Indian dishes. I have tried Indian food with names I’ve never heard of…I’ve tried Indian food with some of my favorites, such as shrimp. It doesn’t matter. The best Indian food I've had is instant Curry out of a box.

Perhaps the cardboard added to the taste?

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Last night, I felt like I was in church when I was a youngster. I remember that we had to sit through the minister’s sermon, sing, then we could have ice cream or other things we really wanted to eat. But last night, the world was again turned upside.

I ate food I didn’t like before I could sing.

I should have punished my coworkers by delivering a sermon on Indian food being the only foreign food in the world.

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Speaking of foreign, I've heard another non-Korean in Korea complain about Koreans referring to non-Koreans as 외국인. It doesn't bother me one way or the other, I haven't been excited about such semantics since the great African American or black debate of the early 1990s. As you may have noticed, I still use black.

My question for the complaining foreigner: What would you prefer? Not all non-Koreans in Korea are Americans. Many Canadians, Brits, and Australians get upset when Koreans refer to them as Americans. Would Westerner (서양인) be more palatable? Non-Korean?

The complaint may have merit, but the best complaints come with alternative suggestions.

It was always funny to me, by the way, to hear Koreans in America referring to Americans as foreigners. In America!

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I don't think I've ever really thought of food as being foreign. Still, I did LOL the first time I ever saw a dog eating noodles. I hadn't been in Taiwan for very long. I was eating at a friend's home. I remember that the dog was, like all dogs, begging for food. Then, the mom put the noodles on a plate or in a bowl and fed them to the dog.

I don't know why I thought it was so funny. But then, I thought: Dogs in America would eat noodles if someone put them on a plate, in a bowl, on the floor, wherever. Dogs don't care about the national origin of food or its presentation. A dog in Taiwan won't frown about noodles or American beef. Does it like it or not is the test.

A dog, if it could cook, might have some preferences, but 99 percent of the time, it will probably eat whatever it is given when it is hungry.

I don't cook either, by the way, so that may explain my apathy about where food comes from. I'm just happy to be eating...

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I’m sure I amazed my coworkers last night. My Korean isn’t that great, I haven’t tried speaking it to them. I’m very serious at the office, very little joking around. But last night? I sang reggae, love ballads, hip-hop, Korean songs. Yes, I was great. For once, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

By the end of the night, after I sang a few Korean songs, the Korean women there started chanting, “오빠! 오빠!”. Hard to translate, the literal meaning is “big brother,” but in that context, it is like chanting for a hero or superstar.

Even I started to believe I was singing well when I had those Korean women chanting and cheering me.

If they had done that a few more times I probably would have paid the entire bill for the night. I was already feeling happy enough that I was willing to forgive them for taking me to an Indian restaurant.

CJL