In our conversation, David Chang said it had been frustrating at times to see that Korean food — beyond bibimbap, barbecue and kimchi — was still so inscrutable for so many people he encountered during the Olympics.
Among his pet peeves, he said, was how non-Koreans used Japanese names to describe Korean dishes: Hwe, sliced raw fish, is not sashimi, he said, his voice rising again; dduk, rice cakes, can be pretty different from mochi; and kimbap, rice rolled inside seaweed with various vegetables or meats, should never, ever, be called maki.
“It’s like having to explain that French and Italian food are different,” Chang said.
Still, Chang concedes, sometimes people might need reference points.
At the opening ceremony, for instance, Chang bought eomuk, or fish cakes, at a concession stand, which provoked some bewilderment among his non-Korean companions. “I said, ‘Have you ever had a pike quenelle? It’s basically the same thing,’” he said with a laugh.
I’ve been lucky to have the company of Chang W. Lee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer raised in South Korea, and more important for me, a soul mate in gluttony. He and I have started a lot of our dinners here the same way: getting into a cab with a restaurant in mind and ending up at a different place after a conversation with the driver. And a lot of the dinners have ended the same way: with a second dinner.
It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, just beyond the halfway point of the Games, that Lee first betrayed a hint of fatigue.
“I’ve never had a food marathon like this,” he said, his chopsticks in a bowl of noodles.
It was true. The past week had felt almost like an athletic pursuit. But as far as I was concerned, we were conquering it.