Despite thousands of international sports fans visiting South Korea for a couple of weeks, restaurants in Pyeongchang, site of this year’s Winter Olympics, aren’t seeing much of a boost in business: It seems tourists from around the world don’t have a lot of interest in trying the local cuisine. But don’t count Al Roker among these timid eaters. America’s favorite weatherman has left his neck of the woods in New York City to broadcast from Pyeongchang with the rest of the Today Show team, and beyond filming the NBC morning show on location through February 23, he’s treating the assignment as an opportunity to engage in some culinary tourism.
Roker is known as a bit of a gourmand. He regularly dons an apron and gets behind the stove during culinary segments on Today. He samples the local fare whenever he’s out on the road. With Pyeongchang 14 hours ahead of the American East Coast and Today filming at 9 p.m. local time, there have been ample opportunities to get out and about.
Roker likens Pyeongchang to the Jersey Shore, and he’s never seen such a selection of sea creatures available for consumption. “You look at the fish and you’re thinking, this is like being at the New York Aquarium and going, ‘Okay, I’ll take that angelfish,’” he told Eater a few minutes after Monday’s Today broadcast ended. “The crab was unbelievable. [Today co-anchor] Craig Melvin and I shared one, and after you ate the crab meat, you could have used the shell as a bed — huge.” (Roker says he and Melvin aren’t the only food enthusiasts among the show’s cast — everyone likes to eat, and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer can eat the most.)
Beyond seafood, Roker has enjoyed some “just outstanding” Korean barbecue, as well as street food at the Central Market in Gangneung and Gwangjang Market in Seoul. The pears were “the size of a baby’s head” and the mung bean cake was “very good,” but hotteok stands out among all the market fare. Roker says he tried sweet and savory versions of the pancake and “both were fantastic.”
Roker was familiar with Korean cuisine before the Olympics, and he says he’s always been a “big kimchi fan,” but the sheer variety of the fermented condiment in its native land has been the biggest surprise of the trip. “There are different types that you don’t see in the States,” Roker remarks. “And then you realize you can probably pickle and pepper anything, any vegetable. So I think it might be fun to try that when I get home.”
Roker plans to take what he’s enjoyed in South Korea and use it as inspiration for future menus at his house. “They’re all ingredients that I’ve eaten, just haven’t been put together in that way,” he says. “So I think I might [try] some stuff out, like grilled meat, but combining it with different vegetables and/or rice and broth.” Roker knows his way around the kitchen as a home cook, but if he’s going to try his hand at kimchi, proper technique will be paramount. Messing up the fermentation process wouldn’t be a good idea.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he says. “You know, the worst thing that happens is I poison my family.”