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Korea

Bourdain’s Field Notes

KOREA, April 2015—I have, for some time, believed that the chefs doing the most interesting work in America—chefs who are in fact redefining what “American food” means—are Korean.

When I go out with non-Korean chef friends, what they want these days is Korean food. They get excited by the tangy, spicy funk of kimchi; intrigued by what is, to them, often a whole new spectrum of flavors.

Date night with my wife? Korean barbecue. And God help me, among a very small circle of friends-all of them sworn to secrecy, and on all of whom I possess horrifying and incriminating photographic evidence that ensures their silence–I have, after much soju, actually gone to Korean karaoke.

Only Korean, by the way.

So it was a no-brainer that as soon as I could, I’d go back to South Korea and do what Koreans do so well: eat lots of great food, drink lots and lots of beer and soju and other alcoholic beverages—and then do silly shit that you would never do if you weren’t with Koreans.
This episode is distinguished by two aspects, one technical and one stylistic.

We had been looking for years for an excuse to tell a story in reverse chronological order: To start at the end, and work relentlessly back to the beginning. The original cut even opened with end credits, but this was deemed suicidal. People would, of course, tune in and think they’d already missed the damn thing. But we did tell the thing in exact reverse chronological order, the film “Memento” being an inspiration in this regard.

And also, because we just like doing stuff like this, we begin with me, hideously hungover, trying to recreate the wreckage of the last night from memory—and continue through an epic bar crawl—and onwards. Unlike my usual shows, I grow progressively more sober as the show goes on.

A major, major source of inspiration (who we referenced/ripped off directly) was the video for Queens of the Stone Age’s “Smooth Sailing.” As if we haven’t benefited enough from the good works of Mr. Josh Homme and his merry band, we first used the video as inspiration and then, while figuring out how to get some music that sounded like “Smooth Sailing,” we just said, “Screw it, let’s call Josh and see if we can use the song. ”
He delivered for us. Josh? I hope you like the show. Consider it an “homage.”

And those of you who find anything to love in this seriously bent episode, please be sure to check out the original video (it’s truly great—and much more disturbing) … and buy the record!

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Travel like Bourdain

“What seems to define Korea as I know it is, it anticipates the future very, very well. This is a country that’s famous for looking forward, looking into the future.”

Local Lingo

Noraebang: Korean for karaoke
Hwe sik: Company dining
Dukbokki: Spicy rice cakes
Japchae: Glass noodles with veggies and beef
Soondae: Korean blood sausage
Meh Oon Tang: Spicy seafood stew

Know Before You Go

In Korea, karaoke is a nice alternative to typical U.S. hangouts—malls, movies, restaurants. Get comfy—it can become an all day affair. They have everything you could possibly want here—the more upmarket venues include cushy digs and food and drinks; in between soft-rock ballads, you can drink soju and feast on squid treats to your heart’s content.

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