I was born in Safford, Graham County, Arizona. Being a native Arizonan, I grew up around spicy Mexican cooking. Back when I lived in the States, I was never that much of a fan of Taco Bell. I’ve always been a fan of Mexican food, especially the food that is cooked in Mexico. Granted, it may not be the most healthy of cuisines, but there is something about many of the great dishes such as mole poblano (chicken or turkey covered in a sauce that includes unsweetened chocolate as an ingredient) that I find uniquely satisfying. And if the truth be told, I miss tamales, especially those made by my fellow parishioners back at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in St. Johns, Arizona.
There are Mexican restaurants here in Korea. I’ve been to a few of them with friends and have found them all to be disappointing in some way. Thus, I was somewhat excited when I saw that Taco Bell was going to be opening up a restaurant in Itaewon, the foreigner-friendly shopping district in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu. I was actually in Itaewon on Sunday. I noticed that the line to get into the Taco Bell stretched outside the building, into the next street, and then some. I decided to return later, which I did tonight.
I realise that Taco Bell’s cuisine is no more authentic Mexican than any of the other Mexican restaurants here in Korea. But I was very happy indeed to have beans again, not to mention salsa, and to see tortillas again. It’s funny, but I never thought that I would miss Taco Bell. I must be starved for Mexican food more than I thought. There are, of course, sauces made from peppers here in Korea. Koreans do like spicy foods, although compared to the Jeolla provinces where I first taught, I find Seoul’s cuisine not to be all that spicy. One of these sauces, gochujang, is fermented red pepper paste so thick that the spoon will literally stand up straight in the container and not budge. But there are no tortillas and no beans!
It is always funny to think about the things you swear you’ll never miss. And I did miss Taco Bell!