Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bibimbap is the shizznit

Being married to a Korean woman of traditional ways I eat a lot of Korean cuisine. Since I can't really exercise anymore because of the lower back, the high-veggie ingredients of my Korean-style meals are what I credit for my waistline going from a 46 to a 42. By the time the next San Diego Comic-Con rolls around I should look less like a stereotypical fanboy and instead more like a superhero. I don't mean Herbie, either.

I particularly enjoy Bibimbap. It is awesome. At most restaurants it comes in a huge bowl with a couple of pounds of condiments (including Kimchi) on the side. Like many of the items on the menu it has a high veggie to meat ratio. Vegetarianism is dull and boring. I couldn't face life if I had to eat carrots for every meal. A few days of that and I'd kill a cow with my bare hands and eat it raw. What would you rather eat, a plate of steamed veggies or a big, hot stone bowl of Bibimbap? You can be totally Vegan and not want to kill yourself out of boredom three times a day just by eating Korean food. It is true.

On Convoy street in San Diego are a few nice Korean restaurants that serve good meals. The favorite of the wife and I is one with the name of her home town in the title. The lunch specials are great and are a popular destination for the people who work in the area. We go there about once a week. The price is small and the portions are large.

One aspect of the place I dislike in principle is the information about the dishes in the framed printouts that line the walls. While the photos and descriptions serve to educate those guests not familiar with Korean cuisine they are also filled with paragraphs touting the health benefits of the food. But none of the descriptions contain much in the way of facts and instead make woo-woo claims similar to those found in books, articles and websites about homeopathy. It should be enough to state the benefits of real food over chemically-saturated and processed junk. Instead nigh-magical properties are attributed to the ingredients that 'clean the blood', 'improve the spirit' and ' such blah blah blah. The mystical, magical and junk-science claims are not necessary, but I am very aware they appeal to a certain type of person.

Not that one culture is particularly apt to take advantage of their own over another, but I am often angered by what I see as an incredibly predatory attitude among members of their own community. Magic cures, quack medical procedures and junk science abounds. Like an evangelical preacher will use religion to make a buck, these grifters exploit the cultural traditions regarding age, respect and ingrained social politeness as pry bars to open the wallets and purses of their marks.

One of the items a market near the Convoy area sells are six inch strips of neoprene cut from wetsuit material. This rubber is nothing short of magic and supposedly cures an amazing list of deadly ailments. By the way, the rubber is cut into trapezoid shapes, ensuring that every other piece leaves a smaller triangle-shaped scrap that is sold for around $300. Nothing is wasted, there. The product purportedly works through ions and magnets and other made up blather. My assertion would be any material that does what it claims doesn't need a large piece to work as the application of even the smallest piece should be equally effective.

That store and nearly every other in the area is full of quack items like that and is one of the reasons I don't let my wife shop alone when she is in the area. Many people of her background have shown themselves susceptible to the high-pressure tactics by salesmen who seek to take advantage of cultural predilections. Some of the salesmen, and I witnessed a lot of this tactic in Maryland, would find a family and prey upon them like a telemarketer with a sucker list. They used cultural and familial pressures to make a sale for some ridiculous device, juice or magic pill. Once a sale is made the word gets out and the vultures descend in a mighty flock.

In Maryland I was often asked by members of my family and the community who had questions about a product to check out the claims. I printed out evidence from the FDA, warnings about scams from the BBB and other sources, pointed out the miracle health pills being pushed on them for $175 a bottle was in fact powdered baby formula. I even once held a presentation for a group revealing that the test for "bad" tap water a salesman was performing in selling $2500 water filters was a scam the government has been warning people about for over 40 years. I often wondered why I bothered to help because in nearly every instance the salesman was able to babble some nonsense and I would be dismissed. On one occasion I'm aware of the product representative asked why anyone would believe a "Westerner" over a fellow countryman.

Just before I left Maryland a member of a small local church asked me to look into the claims of a company pushing miracle Amazonian berry juice. Someone was aggressively contacting the entire congregation. Product aside, it turned out to be an up-sell scam using high-pressure in-house visits to sell a customer a case of very expensive juice on a recurring bank withdrawal or debit card. On the basis of the sales tactic alone I advised against it. Many people signed up anyways and bought nearly $1000 worth of Acacia juice any organic market sells for far cheaper. The funny part was when one of the customers discovered the added protein ingredient in the juice was from shellfish, shrimp casings to be precise. The consumption of shellfish was against one of the tenets of their religion. Massive soul-cleanings then resulted along with the usual problems associated with canceling an account with a company that doesn't have public email address and won't return telephone calls.

Sadly, against all evidence and common sense most of the time people would shell out the cash. Not because they were stupid but because the grifter was working several fronts at once and had already ingratiated themselves to an elder member of the family. If anyone failed to accept the dubious claims of the salesman, they usually withered under the generational influence of an elder who berated them into purchasing the magical, magnetic, ion-saturated vitamins or device. The alarming fact is that for most people, even when the product or service turns out to be useless, they just go on and accept a different incredible pitch.

I have little reason to doubt that many similar scams are being worked here, also. I have never really witnessed a hard sell like I did in Maryland, but considering the claims some of these products make I'm surprised someone hasn't shut them down for fraud or questionable sales tactics. Salesmen in certain stores communicating with my wife step quickly away when they notice me approaching. I doubt I'm scaring them as I usually appear neutral if not jovial. It must be due to awareness that the husband, especially one of another culture, is a greater influence on the wife than they will be in the short time allotted. Unfortunately the desire or need to purchase products and items that can otherwise only be found in Korea leads us into certain stores like the one that sells the magical healing rubber.

But woo-woo claims aside, Bibimbap is the shizznit.


  1. Excellent post!

    Bibimbap is delicious, no doubt about it. So is chop chae and bulgogi. There's one Korean dish I love that comes with an egg on top, but I can't remember the name of it.

    The town I work in has a big Korean population--we have two huge Korean supermarkets that people come for miles away to shop at. You are dead right about the preying on their own thing, too. It's not just Koreans though--that's true of all ethnic groups. We see the same thing with Russians and Poles in our town. I think immigrants naturally trust their own, and there's predators in every group waiting to take advantage of that.

    Good lord I'm hungry now.

  2. YES!!! I love bimbambap, especially in a sizzlin' cast iron bowl. My wife's Korean, too, and I've come to really enjoy their food. Great post!

  3. Wow, I'll have to give bimbampap a try!

    Y'know, my ex-boyfriend was prescribed "walking around with little magnets in your pocket" by one of his so-called "doctors." I didn't have the heart to tell him. He doesn't trust traditional -- by which I mean, "scientifically proven" -- medicine at all at this point. So it would have been like talking to a brick wall. All I could do was rebuff his well-meaning efforts to foist some of that junk-science crap off on me. Which might be one of the reasons we're still friends.

  4. So it would have been like talking to a brick wall. All I could do was rebuff his well-meaning efforts to foist some of that junk-science crap off on me. Which might be one of the reasons we're still friends.

  5. I'm not married to a Korean woman, but I love dolsot bibimbap. The stone pot makes this delicious dish a complete different gourmet experience.


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