I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Korean food, Korean tacos, or Roy Choi until I saw his commercial for Google Glass Explorer on YouTube. As soon as a I saw an Asian with some dope sleeves, I knew something was up. Besides personally identifying with Choi’s cultural struggles as a Korean-American growing up in L.A., I just love this idea of pairing unlikely cuisines and the commentary it provides on where our society is heading.
The Post-Immigration Narrative
Let me take a second to clarify that although I’m CLEARLY not Korean or Korean-America, Choi’s struggle with his culture is a narrative many second-generation kids are accustomed to hearing. For the longest time I gave my parents, family, and culture everything I had to be a model Iranian-American
if that even exists. I went to school, got good grades, and set my sights on a Master’s in Public Policy. And then everything changed. After the scholarship I had been hoping to get for Georgetown fell through, I spent a couple of years job hopping, trying to figure out what I could possibly do with an English degree. (The answer is nothing that truly pays the bills. Unless your brilliant. Like remarkably brilliant. And even then it’s still hard.)
It was food, nutrition, and health that got me back into a working rhythm again. Choi never really touches on this in his interviews, at least not that I know of, but I think food and cooking can be considered a moving meditation. I know personally that some days I’m super inspired to cook; some days not so much. In other words, I throw whatever I’m feeling that day into the dishes I make. Passionate dishes usually come out great. Dishes I’ve contemplated in my head for days or even weeks can turn out exactly as I have envisioned. And some nights, an awesome dish will happen completely by accident. I’ve noticed the more I cook the less in control I really am. I don’t make the decisions—the food does.
The Cathartics of Food and Its Cultural Implications
Choi also intimates this, but again doesn’t quite address it: in many immigrating cultures, there are specific molds one must assimilate to. Conveniently, the top three molds are doctor, lawyer, and engineer. I wouldn’t say it’s our parents’ fault by any means; they’re simply teaching us what they were taught and what worked for them. But to think every Indian kid or Chinese kid of Lebanese kid is going to become one of these professions is frankly absurd. You might not value that hairdresser or that marketing analyst at first. But when you’re business is going under and you really need a haircut, suddenly hairdressers and analysts are a godsend. That is, there’s a place for everyone in this world, and sometimes your place isn’t in a hospital, a court room, or a tech office.
The irony to Choi’s cuisine is it reflects this interpolation between old and new. Korean tacos and other fusion foods that Choi has developed aren’t exactly a slap to the face to traditional Korean food and culture. Rather, because they deviate so much from the norm, we don’t always know what to make of the cuisine. Because it’s so delicious, we have no choice but to accept it regardless of whether or not it’s ‘authentic’ Korean food. Choi’s food takes all the comfort of the Old World and warps it in a portable tortilla so that the new generation can carry this food and culture wherever they go physically and metaphorically.
I was really inspired by the Kogi story to take a stab at Korean tacos. But the thing is, I don’t eat tacos. I don’t eat bread. And gluten-free bread, well sometimes that feels like an oxymoron. So I settled on making Korean burrito bowls because it’s simply what I like.
I couldn’t find kimchi at the grocery store (go figure). I would have made some myself, but I wanted today’s recipe to focus on the incredible braised beef I made. I settled for some pickled ginger (yes, I know this is technically Japanese) and also made an Asian slaw salad to get that cabbage component in the dish. Instead of that disgusting rice you find at most Mexican restaurants, I opted for steamed brown rice. Sure, it’s on the boring side. But it’s healthy, fiber-rich and will keep you full for hours. This healthier version of Korean burrito bowls packs all the punch with way fewer calories.
A couple last note of advice: it looks like this dish will take a ton of time. But actually it’s pretty simple. You’re really just letting the slow cooker do most of the work. Any work done for this dish is entirely worth it, so please read, eat, and enjoy!