Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tomatoes; ie. why food in Korea is so bad

Rant time; how many cuisines of the world rely heavily on tomatoes? A lot, right? Obviously not Korean food, for reasons I will explain, but yes, a lot of food just wouldn't be good without some good tomatoes. Tin tomatoes will get you only so far food-wise; your salads and sandwiches though will live and die by the tomato.

Imagine a country where all of the slicing tomatoes they sold were completely flavorless, neither sour nor sweet, devoid of tang, mushy, pink, and generally a disgrace to the name. Well, guess what, I live here. Why Korean-grown tomatoes are so piss poor, I will never know, but the only Korean food I've seen them applied to is Kongguksoo, a cold soy bean noodle dish, and they are an arbitrary addition at that; the only other way Koreans really eat slicing tomatoes is by serving them in wedges, sprinkled with sugar, at bars and in brothels and like establishments. You have the different Chinese dishes that use tomatoes, like the egg dishes, etc, but they neither have those here in Korea nor do the Chinese disrespect their tomatoes so badly to have a problem like this.

For those who doubt, I lined up a pair of Kinokuniya tomatoes bought in Japan (because Kinokuniya produce lasts twice as long as regular supermarket produce, sup Murakami), and a pair of Korean 'chal' tomatoes; of slicing tomato varieties in Korea, there is pretty much only this kind, and then the fully ripened 'wansook' version of this same tomato. As you can see, the prices are similar; 2700-something won for the Korean ones and 258 yen for the Japanese ones. The coloring is obviously different.

As you slice into them, you notice the differences immediately; Korean tomatoes have very little seed and liquid, and have a huge core section. The Japanese tomatoes are similar to what we know in the western world, as well as most everywhere else, as a typical (albeit a really good example of a) slicing tomato. The flavor is full and deep of tomato, good sour balanced with some sweetness (Japanese produce is all very deep and rich in flavor and natural sweetness) and texture is nigh perfect. Perfect on a sandwich, on a burger, in wedges or pieces for a salad.

If Korean restaurants, particularly the Italians, the Middle Easterners, and all of these bandwagoneers claiming to be serious about making burgers and sandwiches care about the food they make, then they are going to really need to address this tomato thing (amongst many other things)...

Fanatic, I know, but definitely a sore point.


  1. We have this HUGE beefsteak variety in the states that's everywhere in the local grocery chains. Thick skinned, low water content, flavorless starchy mush. Looks a lot like the ones you have in the picture, color and all. We do have this sweet and tangy grape sized cherry tomato variety that is served in salads. Not practical in a burger though. It's mind boggling that produce like this is tolerated anywhere.

  2. agreed. It is tough to find a good tomato here. Also red onions. Both are veggies that I love in sandwich/burgers.

  3. Typical stupid American who has nothing better to do than ranting about how other cultures are inferior.

  4. Hey this was really insightful. Thank you for sharing. Where in Korea did you get your tomato in this blog post?