I have always envied the spiky haired Flavortown resident, Guy Fieri.
To those who are not food or meme savvy, Guy Fieri is a happy man who travels across the United States visiting diners, drive-ins, and dives and eats heavenly foods on camera for his show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” He gets paid…to eat food.
Now, while I did not get paid (technically), I and three fellow DESKers engaged on a journey to be Guy Fieri and find eateries in Seoul that are representative of multiculturalism in South Korea.
Let’s go to Flavortown
As part of our program, we were assigned a side field project to do while in South Korea. My group was tasked with researching the topic of multiculturalism, and we decided to tackle that topic through food and the immigrants behind them. So, James and I hit up Itaewon while Melody and Valentina traveled to Myeongdong, two districts of Seoul that are filled with diversity, to hunt for meals and stories.
I had initially thought that this project would be relatively easy–go to a restaurant, talk to people, and eat delicious food. But, as we hopped by several restaurants in the suffocating heat, we realized that finding authentic restaurants owned by immigrants (not Koreans) was difficult. However, our persistence paid off, and we had our first taste of Ugandan, South African, and Turkish foods.
The food adventure didn’t stop with foods of different cultures. A couple of us also went to Gwangjang Market and ate yukhwe (육회), Korean beef tartare.
Humans of Itaewon
At each of these restaurants, we interviewed an immigrant representing the culture behind the food. Some were more hesitant to talk to us than others, but they each brought a lot of value to the conversation about multiculturalism in South Korea. In recent years, South Korea has faced an influx of immigrants and foreign visitors penetrating what is otherwise a homogenous society. As a result, South Koreans can “otherize” or ostracize these immigrants because they are different. However, each of the people interviewed, although none of them look Korean or share the same culture, had positive experiences assimilating into Korean society. To my surprise, none of them had reported any instance of discrimination they faced, and some described the environment as friendly and hospitable. This was an image far from what we had learned about in class at Duke regarding discrimination towards migrants, and from our grumpy taxi driver experiences. Of course, we didn’t become best friends with these people from a 5-10 minute conversation, so there may be more that they were uncomfortable with telling us. However, it was hopeful to hear that perhaps people in South Korea may be more accepting of diversity nowadays.
This project forced me to step way out of my comfort zone and approach total strangers, then proceed to talk to them about personal topics within minutes of meeting. One of my favorite memories of this trip will be of having a meal with a man from South Africa and learning the proper way to eat a lamb pie. Who knows, maybe with time and practice, I can be the next Guy Fieri. :^) Time to move to Flavortown.