Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mexican Night in Korea

Living in Korea is amazing in a great number of ways, but there are also aspects of it that … well, they kinda suck. When you've got a craving for international food, for instance. Korean food is easy to find, cheap, and delicious, but international food, not so much. Knowing this would be the case before I left the US a month and a half ago, I made sure to have an ample supply of taco seasoning in my backpack.

My first month back in Korea was great, food-wise, as I knew it would be. I hadn't really eaten Korean food since I left the country in September, 2011, and by the time I returned, I really missed it. So I ate it for lunch and dinner every day without thinking much about other types of food. Then, one day, I had a sudden craving for Mexican, and with a pound and a half of taco seasoning languishing in my cupboard, I went to the grocery store with a mission: tacos. Here are the ingredients I ended up settling on, and I use the word 'settling' with an intentionally negative connotation.

Ground pork.  Ground beef is available, but costs something like four times as much as pork.  Pork is huge in Korea, and especially on Jeju.  These two packages totaled about 600 grams (1.3 pounds), and set me back about tree-fiddy ($3.50).  It would have cost me about $12 for an equivalent amount of ground beef.

350 grams of "Pizza Cheese."  I think it is just mozzarella, but I don't really know for sure.  Set me back about $5.  Variations of pizza cheese / mozzarella are the only type of cheese (of which I'm aware) you can get pre-shredded here.  The options available for block cheese aren't much better, and are prohibitively expensive.  Also, I've been looking for a cheese grater since I arrived, and have yet to find one.

The only ingredient I ended up with that I don't really have any qualms with.  Average tortilla chips at only slightly inflated prices - about $3, I think.

Ugh.  Crappy salsa.  They have "Pace" as well, but  I seem to remember it's fairly mediocre as well, and costs $6ish for a jar of the same size.  This was about $3.

I don't think a professional chef could do too much to save me with these ingredients.

Disappointment, thy name is Purchasing Mexican Food Ingredients in Korea. It's a long name, but appropriate. With my mediocre ingredients purchased, I returned to my perpetually-freezing home and changed into my fuzzy socks and dead-sexy matching fleece pants and top, as I do every night in my apartment (because it's perpetually-freezing and expensive to heat). Then I cooked. Results below.

Nice outfit.

Ground pork kinda looks like ground beef once you've cooked it.  Similar texture too, and since the flavor you're getting is more from the seasoning than anything else, I'm not too sure you actually lose too much by using ground pork instead of beef.  I'd love to try them back-to-back in a blind taste test.

NOT the most appetizing Mexican food anyone has ever made, but good enough.  That'll do pig, that'll do.  (Get it, because it's made with pork?!  Nice, Glenn.)

Hm. Ground-pork nachos / shell-less taco-y things with pizza cheese and less-than-delicious salsa. Not exactly the result I was hoping for, but good enough. The good news is that since I made this Mexican mess, I've met a couple people in the building who have a fairly regular Mexican night, and I'm hoping that with our combined powers and knowledge, we'll be able to get better ingredients for more enjoyable results.

And if not, oh well. There's always Korean.