Rose Richard:My mouth is agape from food critic ignorance

A new restaurant opened this fall on N.W. 23rd. It’s called BeWon, and it’s a Korean restaurant. I tried it out, as it’s the closest Korean restaurant to downtown. The food is good and reasonably priced, as Korean food goes.

When a new restaurant opens, all the newspapers go and review it and occasionally write something coherent about the food, ambiance, etc.

The three reviews I’ve read about BeWon have all been moronic. Yes, they have been favorable reviews, but having more than a working knowledge of Korean food, I feel that I must respond.

First of all, every single writer thought they were cool because they had tried Korean food previous to eating at BeWon and they loved and/or knew what bibimbap is.

For those of you who don’t know, bibimbap is a rice dish with beef or vegetables or both. One writer referred to it as a “rice bowl.” To me, rice bowls are the new chop suey. They are a strictly an American invention that makes white people feel cool because they are eating ethnic food that is exotic but safe.

Bibimbap is hardly that. True, it is a good dish for newcomers to Korean food, but it is hardly a mainstay of the Korean diet.

Each writer was very self-congratulatory that he or she had darkened the door of a Korean restaurant. They preeningly wrote about sampling the panchan (condiments). How brave they are for eating kim chee! One writer laughably said that BeWon had a menu in English. Another said it had the best variety and most selections of any Korean restaurant in Portland (Not true. In terms of selection, New Seoul Garden boasts far more selections, though both restaurants are excellent).

I want to take all three of these people to Korea. I want to take them to a Korean Korean restaurant. I want them to experience a menu with no bibimbap. Korean food is scary when you don’t know what’s going on. There’s squid, tiny dried fish, black fungus and all kinds of things you’ve never seen before. And sometimes, that’s the only choice you have.

In America, you can go into any “ethnic” restaurant and order many things you feel safe eating. Foods that are different from your usual menu, but not so scary you need an interpreter to tell you about them. And I bet you think you’ve taken a taste adventure for the evening.

In Korea, every day is a taste adventure. Even at McDonalds, you can have a kim chee burger. For the record, I never ate at McDonalds in Korea. Only Popeye’s, Burger King and 31 Flavors. I got sick at the KFC in I’taewon. Don’t eat at KFC in Korea. I mean it.

One time we were hungry and went down the street from our hot and stinky dorm to this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant. There were four old men smoking and drinking soju, the local liquor of choice. They were really drunk.

The ajumma (polite term of respect for a non-related older female) ushered us to a table, took our order and we waited.

The food was fresh. It was good, too. The drunk old men entertained us. They tried to talk to my Korean-American friends, and when that failed, they tried talking to me. “Mi guk saram! Ha ha ha ha!” I was often a source of great hilarity to Koreans.

What I’m trying to say here is, even though you’re not some snotty food critic, I know you’re guilty of eating Vietnamese or Ethiopian food and feeling like you’ve done something incredible. You have taken a step in the right direction, broadening your palatal horizons. But it is even better if you go to those restaurants and order something you’ve never tried. You might hate it, but at least you are a truly brave gastronomist.