Ken's Korean Culinary Shop of Horrors

Koreans are slightly thin-skinned about criticism of their country, sort of the way that Israel and Palestine are slightly resentful of each other, so I will state in advance that Korean food can be excellent, with lots of crunchy, spicy, interesting flavors. It can be very tasty, healthy, and well-presented.

Can be.

But when a meal here is bad, usually because it's a careless and cynical pass at making foreign food, it can be dog-howlingly awful. It can be so bad that you are urged to take a photograph to prove to friends or perhaps yourself that you actually ate something you wouldn't normally have the heart to feed to a stray cat. Thus this expanding gallery of cooking crimes against humanity.

"That's not 'food.' That's what food eats!"

Hands down, one of the worst lunches of my life was near Taejongdae in Busan. Their "pizza" was a piece of raw dough with bits of onion, some sort of sprinkled meat product, and a veneer of melted sliced cheese. The iced tea was sugared, well.. sugar.

Next on our list of horrors is a "hamburger platter" I had near Seorak Mountain, which was a patty with apple slices (?) inside sandwich bread (?), slathered with ketchup. You should never expect good meals at a mountain resort, but something this bad requires special effort.

What would be the easiest job in the world? Drummer for the Cowboy Junkies? George W. Bush's librarian? Perhaps menu planner for a Korean cafeteria. Every meal is rice, kimchi, soup, greens, water, and mystery meat. Every. Freaking. meal. until. the. earth. falls. into. the. sun.

There's a local brew pub I really like for its German drafts, but someone tried to make Mexican food by looking at an internet picture. Thus we have nachos with whipped cream because no one bothered to check what the "white stuff" was. At least it isn't liquid paper.

Poutine at a Burger King in Daegu. Are there absolutely no franchise rules at all here? Poutine is a Canadian dish with potatoes, cheese curds, and gravy. This is cold fries, mayonnaise, and barbecue sauce. I suppose if you're going to insult a nation's signature dish, do it 100 percent.

Lest people yell at me or get hurt feelings, there are some foreign dishes that Koreans are doing increasingly well. The pasta is getting better, and the cafe culture is really improving. Here's a really nice tiramisu I had with Salvadorean coffee. And this is chocolate, not barbecue sauce.