A hierarchy of food, both from the East and West

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A hierarchy of food, both from the East and West

One of the most poignant scenes from the popular TV drama “My Lovely Sam-soon” is when the chubby, 29-year-old spinster (as she is often called in the show), a pastry chef, dumps kimchi into her beef soup in a Korean restaurant to soothe her hangover. The camera then pans to her male companion, who is too handsome and well-mannered to even kill a cockroach, as he stares with a look of disgust at the woman voraciously eating her soup.
What continues to fascinate me about this drama, which deals with the lives of chefs and staff members at one of the city’s most respected Italian restaurants ― tritely named “Bon Appetit” ― is the hierarchy of food that exists to portray the class status of the characters.
While Sam-soon, who slurps her beef soup without a tinge of shame, comes from a humble family that used to run a mill, her prince charming, the owner of the Italian restaurant she works for, is the son of the owner of a hotel business. At the airport as she is leaving for Paris to study French pastry-making, her father feeds her wholesome red bean cakes.
There are other references to food in this drama. The waitresses at Bon Appetit stumble to learn about the varieties of European wines. But once off work, the women head to a pojangmacha to grouse about their lives over soju.
Food, of course, has always been a status symbol. What you eat is what you are. You go into different restaurants with different expectations. But could it be that the standard is based on the reputation or the history of the food rather than its actual quality? If so, is the cost worth it?
I find it perplexing sometimes how food in many countries is often priced according to the ethnicity it represents. Chinese and Vietnamese food have always been relatively cheap compared to Japanese. In most parts of the world French meals are still a license to overcharge.
For years in Korea it was true that a Big Mac set cost twice the amount charged for food in casual Korean restaurants, even though the nutritional value of the Korean food is much higher. In North America, I haven’t been to many Chinese restaurants where the price of fried rice noodles is more than that for a plate of meatballs and spaghetti. At some pizza places in Korea, they still serve knives and forks as a symbol of prestige.
It’s an interesting parallel how people automatically connect to the idea of “Western” food being more expensive and higher in quality than “Eastern.” As a separate issue, I’ve only been to a few cities around the world where real estate in the eastern part of the region is more expensive than in the western part.
In this age, does food still have a hierarchy? Do we discriminate against or identify with certain foods by their tradition and origin rather than their taste? Or am I alone in holding the romantic culinary philosophy that good food, in the end, depends on the heart of the taster?

How to Cook

Oxtail soup

ingredients (for 4 servings): 600 grams of oxtails, 300g radish, 1 green onion, 5 cloves garlic, 3 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon chopped green onion, 1 teaspoon rice wine, a dash of salt, pepper and sesame oil.
1. Soak the oxtails in cold water to remove the blood.
2. Remove from water and place in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes.
3. Add sliced radish to the pot.
4. Add salt, pepper and garlic.
5. Remove the oxtail meat from the pot. Cut into thin pieces; season with sesame oil, garlic, pepper and rice wine.
6. Serve with rice and chopped green onion.

by Park Soo-mee
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