t may sound strange for a Korean girl to love Jewish food so much, but it was a given in Calabasas where I grew up, where mulitple synagogues were within walking distance (you can't walk anywhere in California), elementary school teachers brought latkes for their students, and Jewish delis were the local after-school hangout. Even as a non-Jew I was not immune to the magic of Hanukkah – I even wrote an article about it on Food Network.
When I started Yooeating, one of my goals was to educate people on Korean food that specifically wasn't the Korean BBQ you can get at every restaurant on W 32nd Street. But growing up, my family would go to church or Korean school BBQs in the park, where all the parents would claim a few of the communal grills to cook up our version of summer BBQ – instead of hot dogs and hamburgers, we fired up bulgogi, pork belly, and LA kalbi. And when I arrived in NY, my Texan roommate introduced me to the glories of smoked brisket at places like Hill Country in the city and la Barbecue in Austin.
Every summer growing up, from when I was in my mother' womb until I was 16 and wanted to stay home and work instead, we shipped off to Seoul the minute the school bell tolled on the last day. I was always sad to lose the opportunity to hang out with my friends all summer, but the excitement of watching movies on the plane and walking through the arrival gates at Kimpo Airport to the eagerly awaiting faces of my kin more than made up for it. For three whole months every year we lived with my grandmother, immersed in Korean society and culture. Every late August my sister and I would wonder, "would we even remember how to speak English when we got back?"
Since we were always only there for the summer, and since we had such a big extended family with varying tastes, the one constant for lunchtime meals was NAENG-MYUN. These cold buckwheat noodles, which actually hail from North Korea, are the perfect way to beat the heat and feed young and old alike.
Korea's #1 summertime meal
Buckwheat noodles in cold beef broth topped with flank steak, cucumber, Asian pear, pickled radish, white kimchi, hard boiled egg, spicy sauce, and yellow My Friend's Mustard
popularized in LA's Koreatown
Thin cross-cut BBQ short ribs marinated in soy, onion, & Asian pear
Melona Ice Cream
honeydew melon flavored ice cream
Spam is hands-down my favorite food from childhood. For some it's hot dogs, or pizza, or brownies (all of which I love too, of course), but the pure genius of Spam amazed me since I was wee. My mom made us egg fried Spam for snacks or as banchan, and I would happily eat nothing but that and rice for many meals. Spam was also heavily featured in budae-jjigae (Korean army stew), and I would chase each piece down before anyone else could and hoard them until the end. What's not to love? It's a perfect blend of porky, meaty, and salty.
Koreans seriously love Spam. Every department store, especially the fancy ones, sells gift packs of Spam, wrapped in plastic and a huge bow so you can take them to your in-laws for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). You're definitely something if you bring over a case of O.G. Spam; Spam is so popular that Korea manufactures a variety of knock-offs (I know, how can you make Spam even cheaper?!).
You know who else loves Spam? Hawaiians! Both cultures adopted Spam with a die-hard passion post-war, incorporating the canned meat into delicious versions of their own people's foods and elevating something that most Americans look down upon in horror. Well, joke's on you folks, cuz that's more Spam for me.
For this Korean-Hawaiian pop-up I started with Spam, and built a menu around other natural crossovers the two cultures share – fresh, raw seafood in Hawaii's poke / Korea's hwe dup bap, slow-cooked pork in Hawaii's kalua pig / Korea's bossam, and earthy taro in Hawaii's poi / Korea's to-ran.