SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- Whenever people move from place to place, they may adopt new friends, new languages, or new behaviors, but one thing just doesn't seem to go away -- the love for one's home cuisine. Certainly a newcomer to Korea might find a lot about Korean cuisine that they like, but likely, there would also be days where the cravings for food from back home get the best of even the most seasoned expatriate.
"Unfortunately, Korea gets an F minus when it comes to authentic foreign cuisine," said Roy Kim, a native of Miami, who has lived in Korea for two years. In his opinion, Korea's idea of foreign food is merely foreign looking food.
"There's usually nothing right about foreign food here. Going out for Italian? They serve you sweet garlic bread and pickles... since pasta is foreign, and pickles are foreign to the typical Korean diner's view, they go together," he said. He admits that the quality of foreign cuisine is getting better as more and more Koreans go overseas and bring foreign food with them when they return, but he still thinks Korea has a long way to go.
Another foreign resident, surnamed Chen and from Taiwan, said that the Korean idea of Chinese food is a very "Koreanized" version. "I don't get it... You would think that with so many Chinese in Korea, there would be better places to get your dim sum," he said.
"It's quite ironic when you consider that when Koreans are presented with more authentic versions of Chinese or Japanese food, they almost always seem to prefer the authentic version over the 'Koreanized" one.'"
Linus Kim at one of his pop-up events (top) and smoking pork on his rooftop (Photos courtesy of Eugene Hwang)
Meet Linus Kim, a Korean-American entrepreneur and barbecue enthusiast from Alabama. It was this very problem that provoked him to bring his craft to Korea.
"I'm often asked what American food is, but that's really the wrong question," he said. "America has a lot of different foods from many different regions, and it's not just burgers and fries all the time."
Kim is the man behind Linus' Bama Style Barbecue, which is a pop-up restaurant that serves authentic Alabama style barbecued pork made by Linus himself.
Like any other pop-up restaurants that don't have a set location, Linus' Bama Style Barbecue will show up one day in an Itaewon cafe, another day in a Haebangchon bar, both downtown neighborhoods with much foreign traffic, and there's no telling where it will "pop-up" next. This business model can be advantageous because it requires no overhead going to rent, or utilities. It does have its drawbacks, however, as there isn't any set place that customers know will always be there. Pop-up restaurants have been popular in areas such as new York and Los Angeles in recent years.
"It really makes it important that I serve the best. I'm not just aiming to be the best Alabama style barbecue in Korea. I want to remove the 'in Korea' part."
Kim added that the food has to be good, because it is the only thing in the business model that is constant. The atmosphere for the restaurant is always changing, depending on where it is located.
Quite a lot goes into the preparation for a pop-up restaurant. Kim's usual preparation for a one-day pop-up starts almost one week before. First he travels to Garak Market, the largest wholesale market in the country, to buy the ingredients he needs. He then begins the long and arduous process of smoking the meat. This can take days and needs constant supervision. Linus smokes the meat on a smoker that he has mounted on the rooftop of his apartment. He says the reward for all the intensive labor is the smile on the faces of customers eating his barbecue.
He recounted a story of one pop-up he did where he asked if any Alabamians were in attendance. "There was one elderly gentleman with his friends, and they all looked very skeptical. Before they left, the man came up to me and just shook my hand. I knew then and there that I had done well," he said.
At a recent pop-up in Itaewon, diners from all over Korea, both foreign and native, who had heard of Linus' Bama Style Barbecue via word of mouth or social network sites were in attendance.
"As time goes by, more and more Korean customers are coming out," Linus noted.
Lee Hyun-jung, a native Korean who was on her second pork sandwich, said "There's nothing like this anywhere else. I know someone is going to try to copy this, but I don't think it's going to be the same." Several foreign resident diners had nothing but praise for the food they were rapidly devouring. One even went as far to say that this was better than any barbecue he had tasted anywhere, including the entire United States.
"It's reactions like that that make me feel like I've done a good job," said Linus Kim, the mild mannered barbecue ambassador from Alabama.
Kim is currently on a food research tour in the United States but will return to Korea within the next few months, where he will continue to host pop-up events. Information about Linus' Bama Style Barbecue, such as the menu and the pop-up schedule, can be found by searching for "Linus' Bama Style Barbecue" on facebook.