aesthetics food and drink philosophy Societies

Why Haven’t Americans Figured Out How to Serve Hot Food?

In the time I lived in Korea I noticed a fantastic innovation at their restaurants.  Food was brought to the table simmering in these big steel cookers for everyone to browse from.
I was amazed how these not only kept the food hot, they even had an adjustable heat dial anyone at the table could use.

Such a marvellous invention would be unthinkable, revolutionary in stodgy, joyless American culture that takes greatest pride in its prolish junk food.

When it comes to American food, a piping hot meal is one of life’s challenges.
Everything gets served in complete portions on individual plates made of thick, cold ceramic, completely open to the air.  Everyone takes great care to eat as isolated individuals, avoiding any appearance of sharing from the same source.(that would be disgusting)  Browsing from a collective pot is taboo.  Just watching a people at meal time offers great insight into how they see the world on the most visceral level!
By the time people begin to eat, especially if there’s prayer before eating, even the mashed potatoes are starting to get cold.
I never really understood what a truly hot meal was until I went to some other countries where thick sauces, flaky crusts were common, served in the same container it was baked in hot from the oven, served in cast iron cookware or thick pots with small openings or lids to hold in the heat.  It was never the same again to just eat off of a cold plate that hadn’t even been warmed up.  It’s barbaric, really.  Cold food would offend even cave people cooking over their fires.  Actually, cooking over with a fire in the remote woods is far superior to eating off a cold plate.  There’s a radiant glow of heat that warms your face when you take those foil wrapped baked potatoes and pork loin from the embers of the fire.  Something about really hot food revives the spirit even as cold, soggy food chills the mood, even down to the tips of the toes.
In the States, I still often eat out of the hot pan I cooked in instead of serving onto a plate when making food for myself.  I’ll bring a chair right up to the stove and keep the heat on low as I eat.  If I take it into another room, I keep a lid on until the moment I’m about to eat and enjoy the ebullient rush of hot, delicious-smelling steam rising into my face before I dig in.  But even this is often difficult in America since almost all cookware I encounter is designed to get damaged if it’s so much as touched with silverware.  What backwards and alien customs!

I guess I feel that one of the main reasons to even bother to have a society is to make life pleasant for people.  It’s part of the implicit Contract that motivates us to cooperate with a social order at all.
First a people figures out how to invent a perfectly piping hot meal and then worry about surplus activities like missions into space.
It’s perverse in a way that the most wealthy populations on earth haven’t figured out how to apply sustained heat to their food or contain heat with insulation.
Perhaps it’s the Calvinist, Puritanical disdain for joy in this life that leads to such apathy.
Or is it misguided “enlightenment” empiricism? It has the same calories or nutrients served hot or ice cold after all.
Or is it simply a secular religion of competition and money-making that leaves no place for enjoying the smaller things that make life worth living to begin with?

I suspect it is a combination of all these that impede a culture known for innovation from serving food in containers that have a heat source and adjustable dial.  These are after all the same people who take toasters for granted.

food and drink pharmacology

It Boosts Testosterone Without Side Effects

On weekdays, I was an English teacher in Korea.

On the weekends, I was an explorer in a strange country.

One of the things that intrigued me most was the Asian system of traditional medicine.

I wasn’t interested in curing an illness, though.
I was interested in supplements that make a fit person even stronger.

I don’t trust big pharma, so as I browsed Seoul’s medicinal markets my goal was to go back to the source.

I saw things such as dried seahorses and live hornet’s nests being sold as medicines.

I tried out lots of things myself including roasted centipede, gastrodia(a plant that produces no chlorophyll and generates its food through symbiosis with fungal colonies), and mugwort a relative of nightshade that induces crazy, lucid dreams.

My favorite though, was the most famous of them all:

Korean ginseng.
It contains phyto-androgens unique to ginseng plants known as ginsenosides, organic compounds that boost testosterone and strengthen the immune system. Ginseng is one of just a few herbs that’s known for benefiting pretty much the entire body, an adaptogen.
Better, it’s been used for thousands of years and in all that time, it’s never been associated with any of the devastating side effects that are commonplace with pharmaceuticals.

In Korea I was able to buy up entire 6 year old ginseng roots and consume them straight.

I loved the fiery rush and the extra resilience I’d get from consuming ginseng regularly and it became a part of my lifestyle.

When I got back to the states, I found the actual roots were almost impossible to find. Ginseng was only available as overpriced pills and weak extracts that were often made with junk grade young roots or cut with cheap imposters such as eleuthero root.

With little other choice I tried different brands of pills and was disappointed. They couldn’t compare to the real thing


Business International Affairs

1 in 5 Korean Women Get Plastic Surgery

Most commonly ‘eyelid surgery’ to remove their Asian epicanthic fold.

food and drink

Eating In Korea: Silkworm Chrysali

I would describe the texture as meaty, not bad. But they taste like wet wool.

In Korea, it’s fairly typical to see street stands with woks full of these little guys. It smells somewhat like damp, scorching wool.

I’m pretty open to trying new flavors, but this one didn’t make my list of favorites, sorry to say.

I imagine that these cooked pupae were a byproduct of the silk-making process and gradually grew on people who didn’t have a whole lot of foods to choose from.

food and drink

Eating In Korea: Stingray With Raspberry Wine

A few years ago, I went to the Noryangjin fish market in Seoul. There, you buy your seafood fresh off the boat, live in many cases, and the restaurants right there in the market prepare/serve you up whatever it is you bought.

I saw this stand and decided I had to try some:

Here’s how they served it up for me at a restaurant:

What does stingray/skate taste like?
The taste is like the feral, peppery musk of some wild animal’s territorial marking.
So much so, it burns in the mouth and wafts into the sinuses.
The strange thing is that it actually gave my stomach a soothing, clean, prickly feeling as I ate it.

Nevertheless, it would have been hard to eat without a bottle of raspberry wine to wash it all down.
The Koreans do berry wines wonderfully; I have a special soft spot for them. Most of the Western versions and liqueurs are nauseatingly sweet.
The raspberry wine, Bokbunja, is only slightly sweeter than some sweeter red wines. The sweetness is actually balanced.

The best part: you can order Bokbunja in lots of Korean restaurants in the states and it costs the same as the regular beer or soju. If you’re a weiguk, just be prepared for the waiter’s jaw to drop when you ask for it by name.

What you see in that picture was my lunch. I went back for dinner and that time I had fresh abalone and a brown marine tubeworm Koreans call ‘sea ginseng.’
The abalone was served up just barely seared on the outside and warm all through, mellow, meaty and delicious.
The worm was served up sliced into pieces and to my delight the pieces were still moving independently. It tasted pretty good too. The texture was much lighter and more delicate than fleshy, chewy sea cucumber.

Loved that fish market. There were thousands of people but I was the only weiguk.

food and drink

An Odd Flavor of Korean Ice Cream

I found this at a regular corner store where I was living in a suburb in the Seoul area in 2009. It actually didn’t taste that cheesy which is just as well since Asians typically aren’t fans of that kind of flavor. Which begs the question: why in Asia were they marketing a product as being cheese flavored?
Cheese can be seen as classy, chic, and Western .(I once saw $6 dollar small boxes of imported Kraft singles strategically located in the wine department in an E-mart).
But it is still very much in the process of gaining popular acceptance.

As for the slogan, it’s nonsense, but Northeast Asians like the look and sound of certain English words. “Story” seems to be one that’s caught on.