I don’t know how long they’ll keep this available, but here’s the L.A. Koreatown episode of Anthony Bourdain’s new show, Parts Unknown. Bourdain’s guides to Ktown are two “bad Koreans”: Roy Choi, chef/owner of the Kogi Taco Trucks, and David Choe, the artist. I’ve already some criticism of the episode as inauthentic, ignorant, and even culinarily offensive (‘Jollybee in an episode about Koreatown?!’ said one friend of a friend), but I thought it was pretty interesting for how it was so adamantly Korean American, regardless of whatever essentializing of Korean culture and history the two native informants accomplish. Their Ktown is, for this current boom in K-cuisine (yes, I think the aggressive marketing, experimentation, and exoticized domestication of Korean cuisine warrants it becoming a K-product), such a defining site for the history of Koreans in America. But they do identify in different moments as Korean (un-hyphenated), like when Choe’s father connects the conversation about the impact of the L.A. riots and the rise of Ktown to Korea’s current global cultural presence: “now Korean culture, K-pop, Psy, it’s all over the world, [the] influence.” The somewhat random assemblage of cultural practices and food as what defines Ktown and Koreanness is what’s interesting about the story, because it says more about how cultures are personally codified (through food, location, interactions with different communities, parents, punishment…) and created emotionally and physically through consumption (mostly food, in this case).
In the end, it’s a TV show with the basic premise of eating the exotic, but this time they’re trying to exoticize the local as well (next episode: Colombia, and the one after: Canada. Trés chic). And it did include my new favorite explanation of han* from David Choe’s awesomely coiffed and accessorized mom as David read aloud the definition from Wikipedia ): “It’s heartburn.”
*disclaimer: I don’t have the best jŏng for han