Descent of the Demon Master
Eat enough of this stuff, and pretty soon, the Korean cuisine will come across as rather flat and not seasoned enough.
For example, take this mapo tofu.
In Korea, we try to spice it up with chilies and other capsaicin, but here in the land it came from? The locals use the Sichuan pepper to spice it, just like this.
Eat one, and your mouth will go numb from the heat.
Nam Sang-Hyeok chuckled while pointing at a different dish.
“It's the same story for this, cilantro.”
“Cilantro? What's that?” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head.
“It's this vegetable, the one with the make-up lotion chemical smell.
It's quite hard to get used to it initially, but once you do, it's got that subtle taste you can't help but enjoy.”
“Huh? This has what now?” Jo Gyu-Min blinked his eyes in sheer disbelief as if he would never agree with that assessment.
The grin etched on Nam Sang-Hyeok's face deepened.
“Chief Secretary Jo, whether its food or culture, they are all subjective.
I can't possibly guess what your opinion on this matter is, but well, please consider this.
What suits the locals' taste buds might taste bad to us, while what tastes good to us could be horrid for the locals.”
“E-even so, this is a bit…”
“Your current reaction reminds me of how the locals react to Korean cuisine.
Specifically when they are asked to try our perilla leaves.
The locals absolutely freak out, you see.”
“Huh? Over the perilla leaves? Why?”
“To us, it has that unique piquant aroma, but its smell seems intolerable to the locals.”
“Oh, really?” Jo Gyu-Min was taken aback.
“Yes, really.” Nam Sang-Hyeok nodded and continued, “That's why you shouldn't think such strong spices or the cilantro's smell as weird, Mister Jo.
Culture is subjective, after all.
And we humans are quick to adapt, are we not? Even if you initially fail to understand the local culture, more often than not, you'll come to see what's what after spending some time here.”
“Mm…” Jo Gyu-Min slowly nodded away.
What Nam Sang-Hyeok said made sense to him.
It seemed like a good idea for Jo Gyu-Min to remember this advice.
Nam Sang-Hyeok made a serene face as he continued, “That's why when evaluating another country's cuisine, you need to be open-minded.
Think of it as exploring that country's culture, Mister Jo.
With the sole exception of this goddamn fried rice showered in oil, that is!”
“…Huh? The conclusion to your lecture sounds a bit off?” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head while narrowing his eyes.
“Even though I told the cook to use less oil! Those bastards must be oil barons from the Middle East or something! Just how much oil do they need to use before they are satisfied?! Can you even call this fried rice anymore? It's more like oil rice at this point!!!”
“Please calm down, Mister Nam…”
“I'm telling you, this is why I just can't get along with Chinese cooking!” Nam Sang-Hyeok unhappily yapped on, undoing all the sagely advice he had offered until now in one fell swoop.
Jo Gyu-Min groaned and turned his attention away.
I get this whole thing about different cultures and whatnot.
However, the problem was that he had nothing to eat right now.
The idea of exploring another country's culture sounded all good and well, but that was a topic for another day.
What should he do about his current hunger in the meantime, then?
“I guess the choice is between Korean cuisine and…
this.” Jo Gyu-Min muttered helplessly.
Nam Sang-Hyeok shook his head.
“Well, there are plenty of Western franchises in this city, too.
You know, fast food.”
Jo Gyu-Min stared at him, his narrowed eyes silently asking why Nam Sang-Hyeok hadn't taken them there instead.
Nam Sang-Hyeok could only chuckle hollowly at that.
“Mister Jo, if I advised you to go to a fast food joint, would you have listened?”
“…No, I wouldn't have.”
This is an experience all first-time visitors must go through at least once.
So, please persevere and enjoy your food, Mister Jo.”
Jo Gyu-Min sighed grandly and took a look at the food once more.
'…What should I eat, then?'
Left with little choice, he picked up a dumpling and silently munched on it.
That was when he finally noticed how Kang Jin-Ho was unhesitantly trying out all the different dishes on the table.
“Sheesh…” Jo Gyu-Min muttered in a daze.
He had witnessed many facets of Kang Jin-Ho, but this scene had to be the manliest of them all.
Jo Gyu-Min was sure of it.
Gaze in wonder at the sight of a man's man chewing on that sinew-like cilantro or whatever without a single complaint!
Jo Gyu-Min gulped nervously and cautiously asked, “Mister Jin-Ho, do you like the food?”
Kang Jin-Ho smiled brightly and replied, “No, they all taste like crap.”
In all honesty, even Kang Jin-Ho was stunned by the food, and not in a good way.
Just like the language, he figured the cuisine would have changed somewhat since so much time had passed between then and now.
The amusing thing about this whole situation was that Zhongyan's cuisine was far, far smoother, cleaner—and lighter-tasting than this.
That made sense, though.
The only cooking oil found back then was 'layou' made out of lard.
And most restaurants and diners would have found this ingredient way too expensive to use liberally.
That was why most dishes back in Zhongyuan were either steamed or boiled.
But in a span of a few hundred years, most cuisines had 'evolved' into stir-fries or just fried foods.
'I can't tell whether the food in the past was better or my palate has changed…'
Having said that, Kang Jin-Ho didn't find this food inedible.
Hadn’t he rummaged through piles of garbage to find something to eat back in Zhongyuan? He wasn't picky about food regardless of how it tasted, but even he had to admit that this oily fried rice was testing his limits.
“Gee whiz. Even the start of our journey is 'inauspicious', isn't it…?” Jo Gyu-Min chuckled and tried to joke about this situation.
However, he was interrupted by a loud commotion coming from behind him.
When he tried to look, Nam Sang-Hyeok quickly stopped him.
“Don't look, Mister Jo.”
“This diner is frequented by the locals, so it often sees bastards like them spoiling the party, Mister Jo.
The Communist Party personnel usually manage those restaurants with tourist traffic, but not here.
Punks like them show up every now and then in places like this.”
Jo Gyu-Min was taken aback.
“Hmm? Are they like those famous Triad gangsters or something?”
“Not sure if they are.
The funny thing about the whole Triad thing is that technically speaking, every hoodlum is connected to the so-called Triad in some way, you see?”
“At the same time, none of them are related to the Triad at all.”
“…Oh. So, they are just…
organized gangsters, then?”
That was when Kang Jin-Ho suddenly got up.
“W-wait! Please sit back down!” Nam Sang-Hyeok freaked out and tried to stop Kang Jin-Ho, but Jo Gyu-Min reached out first.
He grabbed Nam Sang-Hyeok and pulled him back down to his chair.
Jo Gyu-Min lightly shook his head.
“B-but, those people are…!”
“No, it's alright.
Really.” Jo Gyu-Min calmly pointed, forcing Nam Sang-Hyeok to shift his puzzled gaze toward Kang Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho walked up to the group of hoodlums raising a commotion by the front of the diner, then whispered something to them.
The local hoodlums stopped raising a ruckus and began to discuss something amongst themselves before shooting murderous glares at Kang Jin-Ho.
However, they still backed off quietly before rushing outside the diner all together.
“W-what just happened?” Nam Sang-Hyeok was taken aback, unable to figure out what he had witnessed.
In the meantime, Kang Jin-Ho returned to his seat, his expression as composed as ever.
Nam Sang-Hyeok hurriedly asked with his face flushed red, “Just what did you say to them, Mister Kang?”
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn't say anything important.”
“B-but, what was it?”
“I simply told them to bring all of their bosses here if they don't want to die today.”
“Eeeeh?!” Nam Sang-Hyeok's jaw dropped to the floor, and he hurriedly shifted his quaking eyes to look outside the diner.
Sure enough, he could see a large group of well-built men rushing over here while carrying sashimi knives wrapped in some newspapers.
“…Oh my god.
We're all going to die.”
Foam began to bubble out of Nam Sang-Hyeok's mouth.
“Asian Corridor in Heaven” is the English title of a 2007 six-part documentary series produced by Korea's KBS network.
Its original title is “Ancient Tea Road.” ☜
“Ganpengji” is a fried chicken dish.
“Ganpeng” means fried without soup, while “ji” indicates chicken. ☜
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