Saturday, April 3, 2010

Culture Crossings

So, in lighter news we had our first staff potluck last Tuesday and it was a big hit.  As some of you may know I love to cook and I'm pretty good at it.  The skill came out as sort of a necessity since my mother hates preparing food.  She used to have little respect for it and when my grandmother tried to teach her how to make certain dishes she would just hide the pans and run away.  For a good part of my life we just ordered take out or ate meals out of a box, not exactly healthy but hey it worked.  When I got older I discovered I much preferred to make my own food and cooking to me is much like an experiment with the recipe as your guide. During graduate school I would go over my friend Kristen's place and would prepare meals which also gave me the chance to widen my repertoire.  Well I got another chance to go at it in the kitchen for this week's potluck, with an added challenge: the people I was making food for had distinctly different pallets than I did.

This is a typical spread.  Gotta love the sweet and sour pork and spicy seafood.  The colored balls you see in the upper right are made of rice and covered in sesame seed oil.

If you remember my earlier post on the food here, you remember that Korean's like different food combinations than we do, and as I started to experience more of what Korean cuisine has to offer I started to see where the differences lie. They have a different sense of sourness and sweetness.  Fruits like oranges and strawberries are dessert for most Koreans and even their sweet snacks, to me, are on the semi-sweet side.  They enjoy roasted flavors like nuts and sesame seed oil, and enjoy placing a lot of different flavors in the same pot.  They also love kimchi and a lot of other fermented foods, whereas I only eat pickles and that's with sandwiches where the bread can drown out some of the salt.  So what did I make for people who are sensitive to sweetness, have a different sense of sourness, and who like fermented flavors?

Cornbread.  Chicken Caesar Salad.  Strawberry Crepes.

I found a foreign food store (thank you Jesus), and while it is horribly expensive (15 dollars for a large canister of Quaker Oats) you can get everything from vanilla extract, Monterey Jack cheese, licorice, Reese's, and of course, cornmeal!  I had to go out and get a toaster oven, because my apartment only has a small, two eyed gas range as well as some cooking supplies, but I got right down to it.  The biggest hit at the potluck was the Chicken Caesar salad.  Apparently in Korea it's rather expensive so most people don't eat it.  I made my own garlic croûtons with my own recipe and I used a new technique to make the chicken tender and moist without butter.  You take a gallon of water, a cup of salt, and half a cup of sugar (there's always half as much sugar as salt), boil it so that the sugar and salt mixed in, and you let the chicken sit in this solution in your fridge for at least 30 minutes if not more.  You will get awesomely moist, tender chicken.  The other foreign teachers brought in brownies, pasta, and tacos.  Most of the teachers had never heard of tacos and it was their first foray into Tex-Mex food.  I brought some sour cream, which they hated by itself, but found a way to make it better.  Which food do you think they enjoyed with sour cream?  Take a wild guess.  I'll give you a hint, not the tacos.

The cornbread.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, sour cream and cornbread.  Just when I didn't think it couldn't get any weirder.  From the people who give you radishes and fried chicken, corn and pizza, and other delectable combinations, we get sour cream and cornbread.  Don't worry, I got my revenge.  I put some sour cream on their onion pancakes (which taste just like latkes), which sent them all reeling. Some of the Koreans liked the cornbread by itself, especially my boss, who was snacking on it despite the fact she never makes a show of liking anything.  The crepes went over well too but I made them with Nutella chocolate spread to be a bit more French, and again, some liked it, some thought it was too sweet.  The potluck was a big hit and I got to eat some comfort food I've missed from home as well as some really awesome Korean food. Also the challenge of making food for people who's taste I didn't quite understand made for a fun experience.  Hopefully we can do something like it again in the future. comments