The Common Room – Bulgogi Tacos

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At the little international school I attended in high school, there was a common room reserved for the top of the food chain. There, the 11th and 12th graders congregated to drink coffee, roll cigarettes, and gossip the best we could about our 120-student strong school, of which three quarters was below the age of 12. We had our own coffee machine, flanked by boxes of sugar cubes used more frequently for crunchy sugar highs than to sweeten caffeinated beverages. One wall was a mural in progress, painted a bright medley of colors by a previous year, now resigned to staying forever unfinished. Another wall was dominated by windows that looked out onto a nondescript hill of grass, exciting only when it snowed and even then only to the two expat Californians to whom snowfall was the event of a lifetime. And then there were the couches.

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Two hulking sets squatted low across the midsection of the room. Age had weathered their somber floral velvet coverings so that they now resembled blooming purple-black bruises more than anything else. The cushions were soft. Once you entered their bottomless depths they were loath to give you up. So there we lingered, blissfully ignoring the stains that camouflaged themselves in the dark mottled fabric.

On those couches I slept deeply, rolled up in my heavy winter coat as an amorous couple cuddled nearby. There I watched my classmate with curiosity as he chopped his spaghetti into little bits with a fork and knife and ate the crusts off his baguette, using the spongey innards to wipe up the table. Music pumped into my ears from my shiny green iPod nano (a most prized possession circa 2009) as I struggled with first order differentials (still don’t know how to deal with them).

And it was on those couches that my classmates once held an impromptu discussion about the world’s worst cuisines – everyone agreed without dispute that British food topped the list. My home country was spared the disgrace because my classmates decided that American snack food was too good.

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Maybe I was a little offended. But I didn’t want to argue with European-born, globe-trotting, money-burning children of diplomats who could easily point to the Big Mac as ironclad proof of the inferiority of American cuisine. So I took the cowardly route and wrote a college essay about it. And now I’m writing this blog post, in which I’d like to proudly proclaim that while we Americans have indeed positioned ourselves as forerunners in the microwave TV dinner and drive-through fast food industries, there’s more to the food we cook and eat than convenience and empty calories.

Where else in the world do cooks so frequently cause grandmothers to roll over in their graves by desecrating cherished culinary classics and mashing them with other cuisines to create hybrid masterpieces? I love the classics and traditional dishes, I really do. But fusion has a special place in my heart.

I’m proud to be an American, where bulgogi taco trucks roam the streets.

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Bulgogi Tacos

Makes 15-20 tacos

Bulgogi
(barely adapted from this recipe)

1 lb thinly sliced beef (I use beef for hotpot/shabu shabu)
4 garlic cloves
1 ripe Asian pear, peeled and chopped
1 large onion
1 tsp ginger
1 stalk green onion, cut into 1″ pieces
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper

Gochujang Sauce

3/4 cup Kewpie mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang
juice from half a lime
salt to taste

Garnish
(corn tortillas and kimchi mandatory, everything else optional)

15-20 corn tortillas
2 cups kimchi, roughly chopped
green onions, chopped
pico de gallo/salsa
guacamole
lime wedges

  1. Make the bulgogi: puree the garlic, pear, half the onion, and ginger in a food processor until the mixture is very smooth and creamy.
  2. Combine the puree with the green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, and pepper and stir to combine. Marinate the beef slices in this mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
  3. In the meantime, make the garnishes for your tacos. Make the gochujang sauce by combining all the ingredients. Feel free to adjust the amount of gochujang to up the spiciness as desired.
  4. When you are ready to cook the beef, thinly slice the remaining half of the onion and cook the onions with the beef and marinade in a large skillet over high heat. Stir constantly until the meat has browned and most of the liquid has evaporated.
  5. Set out your garnishes, heat up the tortillas, and serve the bulgogi straight out of the skillet.

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