David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku Culinary Universe, is in Pyeongchang, South Korea this week serving as NBC’s food and culture expert during the 2018 Winter Olympics. “Korean food is really an amalgamation of food from all around the world,” Chang says in his first TV segment, which aired during last night’s Olympics coverage. “You have Chinese sausages, you have Japanese dumplings, you have American roast lobster with cheese — it doesn’t get more multicultural than this.”
After sampling the goods at an outdoor night market in Seoul, the chef points out that Korea has “seen its indigenous culture flattened and rebuilt over and over,” which is one reason why the food takes on so many influences.
To show an example of how “great food is delicious everywhere,” Chang heads to a truck stop to dig into a bowl of budae-jjigae, a stew made with rice cakes, Spam, kimchi, noodles, and hot dogs. “My family has eaten Spam since the Korean War, because this was the meat that was available,” Chang remarks. “This is something I like to eat after a big night out, for sure.”
After refueling at the truck stop, Chang then goes foraging with a Buddhist monk and watches as she cooks a vegan dish using 20-year-old soy sauce. “This kind of food is temple cuisine, and this has sort of been the precursor for most Korean food,” he says.
And to finish his overview of Korea’s many different food scenes, the chef/restaurateur heads to Gaon, a three-Michelin-starred establishment in Seoul that adheres to tradition. “At Gaon, everything about the meal is designed to take you back in time,” Chang explains. “Even the pottery and the plates used here are classically made and inspired.”
Our tour guide offers one final thought at the end of this segment: “Next time you’re eating Korean food, just realize it’s so much more than barbecue and kimchi — you’re only scratching the surface.”
On Twitter today, Chang shares a clip of another Olympics segment that will air during the games; it’s about the Haenyeo divers:
Honored to help out @NBCOlympics coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Here is a clip about the melting pot that is Korean street food and the determination of the Haenyeo divers. The best way to learn about a country to eat your way though it. #PyeongChang2018 pic.twitter.com/jJdGYZNcFW— Dave Chang (@davidchang) February 9, 2018
Stay tuned for more of Chang’s adventures at the Olympics, and for more videos about both traditional and contemporary Korean cuisine, check out Eater’s series K-Town starring Matthew Kang.