Thursday, March 5, 2009

On Gourmet magazine's 'Mind, Body, and Seoul'

This was the email I sent to the editor of Gourmet magazine as a response to their article on Korean food.

'Mind, Body, and Seoul', or … Shanghai?

Congratulations, Gourmet magazine! Your article "Mind, Body, and Seoul" in the
March issue was full of fresh takes on Korean recipes. Although I would not use
vinegar in my Kimchi, your presentation was impressive, even to me as a Korean who is passionate (and opinionated!) about her country's cuisine. An authentic, yet
creative, depiction of Korean food (outside of Korea) is a really rare offering.

But I cannot help but ask where the Seoul is in the accompanying photographic spread? To my surprise, it was not Korea in the photos, it was...Shanghai?? The red lanterns, wall décor, table cloths, etc. are all iconic Chinese images. You would not put a cowboy and his chuck wagon in the background of a story about French Provencal cuisine, would you? The level of misrepresentation in the photos is egregious, since the recipes themselves were so incredibly Korean.

I should not complain too much since they got food part almost right. (I WOULD NOT use vinegar in my Kimchi!!!!) But the pictures...... Yes, they were beautiful. But the photos do not show Korea. It was like using a cowboy and his chuck wagon for traditional French Provencal cuisine. Nothing wrong with a cowboy himself but it does not represent French food. Same goes to the photo spread of Gourmet. It does not matter how good the photos are. They are just wrong.


Paul Ajosshi said...

I just picked up a copy of the magazine this afternoon and I have to agree with you, the setting screams China and the food screams Korea.

On page 62 the guy is holding his bowl up to his mouth, I thought this was a big no no in Korean cuisine. The bowl stays on the table, doesn't it? Or have I been lied to all this time...

Plus on page 101 they show the lid of a 참이술 soju bottle, but in the accompanying text seem to be describing more traditional soju that comes in at 40 to 45 percent alcohol by volume. 참이술 is only 20 percent or so.

KJ said...

You seem to know a lot about Korean food culture.
You are correct about the bowl. It is big no no to lift your bowl.
And you are right about 참이슬 and the text next to it. It is more about the traditional soju.

When I first got the magazine, I was anxious to check Kimchi recipe, and sure, they recommend to use vinegar.... which you will never heard of it outside of Korea.

The photos and the vinegar just pushed me over the edge

Paul Ajosshi said...

It's a shame they chose style over content. It's wonderful to have so many pages devoted to Korean cuisine, but I guess we have to make compromises.

The vinegar in the Kimchi is very suspicious though, I've had freshly made Kimchi (thanks to a class with an ajumma friend as well as the most fantastic 보쌈 보리밥 place in Gwangju that had the best fragrant fresh kimchi I have ever had) and it was delicious without any extra additions.

KJ said...

Almost all Koreans, who know how to make Kimchi, would laugh at 'using vinegar' recommendation.
Kimchi's sour taste comes from fermentation. the adding vinegar to kimchi thing does not make any sense. I feel almost insulted by that kind of 'advice'.

BTW 보쌈 보리밥!! That is my summer favorite! If Gwangju you've been is located in 전라남도, my hometown is near by that city! Certainly, people in that area know how to eat! :)

Paul Ajosshi said...

Yes I'm talking about 광주, 전라남도, in particular 광산. That's my favourite area in the whole city. The 보쌈 보리밥 place is there as well as the most fantastic 떡갈비 restaurants.

Ninette said...

Wow, you all are being very calm about this. What Gourmet did is reprehensible, another form of stereotyping under the "you all look the same" genre. Shame on Ruth Reichl. I hope you post whether you get a response.

KJ said...

Hello Ninette,

I haven't heard from them. None what so ever. However, to be fair, I haven't picked up the Apr issue of Gourmet, so I don't know whether they responded on that issue.