By Melony Carey
Food by the Book
The SAT is only a few weeks away and students in our area are studying feverishly to get the best possible score. The pressure to succeed academically is not limited to any one culture in the American experience, but is especially significant among Asian Americans who have a traditionally rigorous work ethic and outperformed all other groups on the 2012 SAT.
Enter Casey Han, main character in Min Jin Lee’s 2007 novel “Free Food for Millionaires.” Casey’s parents, Joseph and Leah Han, are Korean immigrants who manage a Manhattan dry cleaner. They want nothing more than for their daughters to appreciate their cultural identity while pursuing the sacrosanct law, business or medicine options at Princeton and M.I.T.
But, it is exactly her graduation from a high-powered Ivy League school that threatens to wrench Casey from her Korean roots. Her “refined diction, enviable golf handicap, wealthy friends” and white boyfriend, Jay Currie, about whom she has not told her parents, have put her in a completely different social milieu. What is worse, she has deferred her admission to Columbia Law School for a year to do that most American thing of all, find herself. She soon realizes that life takes money and she has none. To fill the gap and maintain her socialite lifestyle, she finds herself $23,000 in credit card debt on top of her student loans.
Readers either love Lee’s protagonist for her struggle with self and society or hate her for her deceit and superficiality. On the surface Lee’s novel seems like navel-gazing chic lit, but its deeper message of status and identity put it in the same class as Thackeray’s classic “Vanity Fair” or Elliot’s “Middlemarch.”
You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy Korean-inspired food. The Kogi Food Truck in L.A. spawned a nation-wide Asian fusion craze that blended Mexican and Korean flavors in a truly delicious combination.
Other popular Korean taco trucks are Austin’s Chi’Lantro, San Francisco’s Seoul on Wheels, and Korilla in New York City. Try this easy-to-make barbecued taco for a fun weekend meal.
Easy Kogi Style Tacos
Food Network chef Guy Fieri makes ready-marinated ginger-soy boneless short ribs that are perfect for a relaxed weekend meal. Grill according to package directions or use 1 pound leftover cooked pulled pork or roasted shredded barbecued chicken.
12 corn tortillas
Leftover pulled pork or chicken, reheated
2 tablespoons Korean fermented hot pepper paste
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 cup grated Cotija cheese
Whisk hot pepper paste (or substitute a sriracha sauce), sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil together until sugar has dissolved. Store bar-b-que sauce in refrigerator until ready to use. To make tacos, warm tortillas approximately 30 seconds in microwave. Use two tacos per one serving, as they will fall apart easily. Top with meat, a spoonful of sauce, kimchi (spicy Korean pickled cabbage) or marinated cucumbers (see below), tomato, and grated Cotija cheese. Kogi also tops their tacos with julienne romaine, cilantro relish, sea salt, and a lime garnish. You can also start from scratch and marinate and grill your own sirloin or other cut of steak for the tacos. Serve with rice.
Easy Marinated Cucumber
1 large English cucumber, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon finely minced jalapeno or to taste
Pinch of salt
Red onion, thinly sliced
Mix all ingredients together and marinate a few hours to mingle flavors. Drain and serve on Korean tacos. All recipes adapted from www.steamykitchen.com.