You are what you eat ― and what you don’tDuring the winter vacation of my first year in college, my friend Hafiz, a Malay and a Muslim, came to visit me in Seoul. Looking for a way to pass the time, I took him to Lotte World, an amusement park attached to a hotel and a mall not far from my parents’ home. We roamed the indoor amusement park for hours, defying gravity on as many rides as we could.
Eventually our stomachs started to growl and I suggested that we eat at Lotteria, a burger chain owned by the same conglomerate that owns the amusement park-hotel-mall complex. As far as cheap chow goes, it was our only option. I ordered two bulgogi burger meals. Presuming that Hafiz had never before tasted bulgogi, a signature Korean dish loved by natives and foreigners alike, I thought it was the perfect choice ― even if the burger version wasn’t quite like mom’s.
We sat down and started to dig in. Everything was fine until Hafiz took the first bite. He got this disturbed look on his face and asked, “Isn't this pork?” I just stared at him. I never considered that the burgers might be pork. Bulgogi is made of beef. Hamburgers are made of beef. After hesitating for just a moment, I told Hafiz with utmost confidence that it was 100 percent beef. As evidence I pointed to the goofy drawing of a smiling cow on the burger wrappers.
I then said that the sweet-and-spicy bulgogi marinade might explain why it didn’t taste like any beef he had eaten before. Hafiz accepted my explanation and wolfed down the rest of his burger.
When we got back to my parents’ apartment that night I couldn’t shake the suspicion that Hafiz had planted in my head. I had to get a second opinion. I called a friend and asked her if the bulgogi burgers at Lotteria were made of pork. “Of course they are,” she said.
“Then why is there a picture of a cow on the wrapper?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But they are definitely pork.”
After the call I agonized over whether I should tell Hafiz or not. I felt terribly guilty. I knew he would be furious if he found out.
I resolved to only feed him at places where I could positively identify the food. But for the rest of his visit I felt like he was suspicious. Every time we ate something he would ask, “You’re sure there’s no pork in this, right?”
Recently, I telephoned Lotteria to inquire about the contents of their bulgogi burgers. To my relief, it turns out I was right ― they are made of beef. Goodbye, decade of guilt.
by Lee Ho-jeong