These days, fusion food is all the rage. If you’re a so called “foodie” and are into your local food scene, you’ll know that fusion is often talked up as some ‘bold’ experiment from an ‘innovative’ chef looking to mix the best of both worlds. Do you love Korean food? How about Mexican food? Well, hang on to your dinner plates everyone because this Kor-Mex fusion will BLOW YOUR MIND. At least, that’s what they’d like you to think. The reality is very different. Is this even sushi anymore?
Before I continue on why I despise fusion food, we need to define what makes food “authentic.” “Authentic” food is synonymous with “traditional” food, or foods and dishes developed by certain countries, regions and/or ethnicities over many generations. In layman terms, it’s what your grandma would make. Despite claims to the contrary, authentic food is actually quite rare outside of their home countries or a foreign diaspora (think Mexican food in LA). The reason is very simple, different people like different flavors and while one or two may enjoy authentic Thai food for example, most non-Thai people will not be willing to make it a part of their regular food rotation on a consistent basis. It is just not a profitable business. I’ve seen this over and over in Korea with authentic Mexican restaurants (RIP Taco K) that go under because they just don’t his the right audience, despite doing everything right.
So what’s my problem with fusion food? Well, for starters, it is false advertisement. It is not bold nor innovative as its goal isn’t to be different. It’s main goal is to NOT offend. Fusion food takes the least imaginative and most recognizable foods of both cuisines and tries to smash them together regardless of whether they even go well together. Kor-Mex isn’t going to mix authentic Kamjatang soup with chamorro de res meat (man that sounds good). Nope, tacos and bulgogi is what you get. Thai-Kor isn’t going to be some green curry with, say, seollangtang meat. Nope, you’re getting pad thai and probably kimchi. Nay, definitely kimchi.
I know what you’re thinking, “Fusion food sucks and authentic food is bad for business, thanks for bumming me out Travel World Heritage!” Wait, don’t leave yet! I had a point, I swear. For these reasons, I wanted to encourage everyone that when you travel, choose authentic. I guess if that was my point, I should have put it in the title huh? In any case, when you go on a trip, make it a goal to “eat where the locals eat” in a matter of speaking. In the past, this was easier said than done because the moment you put a restaurant on the map through a publication like the Lonely Planet, it goes to crap. So how exactly do you find authentic food?
One trick I’ve tried is to scour the internet for local blogs. This blog, for example, I would hope is your go to for Korean travel. I mean, I have been here almost a decade after all. However, since food is what we are talking about, look no further than Zenkimchi’s Food blog. Another trick is to make local friends while you’re visiting and ask them to take you where THEY would eat. This can be a bit hard, but rewarding. One less difficult option is a food tour. A Rome food tour for example could show you Rome’s food scene beyond the pizza on the corner you totally found while wandering around. Whatever your method may be, just remember one thing. Say “no” to fusion and say “yes please” to authentic food.
Bonus: Here are some authentic foods to look for in Korea!