Koreatown. It was nearby, but he had never been to this neighborhood. Jo Minjun started to speak in a nervous voice.
“But will Koreatown be enough? I feel like it would be difficult to replicate the authentic flavor because of the localization from being in the US……”
“I’m sure there are differences compared to the food in Korea. However, it is the best option you have right now. You are not looking for the root of Korean cuisine. You are searching for your own roots. For homework of that level……I’m confident you can take care of it in Koreatown.”
“Okay. Thank you. Is there anything else you can add as a hint……?”
Jo Minjun’s eyes were sparkling. It was to the point that Maya was about to laugh in disbelief. But he had no choice. It might look like he was asking someone who made him food to feed it to him, but he wanted to hear any extra tip Rachel may have.
Thankfully, Rachel responded to Jo Minjun’s expectations.
“Do not try to represent everyone. That is all I can tell you.”
Starting from the next day, Jo Minjun headed to Koreatown at least once a day. It was not that hard. If the traffic wasn’t bad, he could get there in about 30 minutes. The problem though…
“……There’s so much traffic.”
Was that there was a lot of traffic right now. The LA roads during rush hour was like hell. Jo Minjun was in the middle of that hell right now. He turned his head with an apologetic expression. Anderson was repeatedly putting is foot on the break and off the break with a tired expression.
Jo Minjun started to speak.
“Sorry. You must be tired.”
“…… Lisa. Are you okay?”
Jo Minjun turned to look at the back seat. Ella and Lisa were sitting in the back. There wasn’t a special reason the three of them were with them. Anderson served as the driver every time he went to Koreatown because he still did not have a license yet, and Koreatown was close to Downtown and Hollywood, so it was easy to have meals with Chloe and Kaya as well. With that being the case……
“I’m okay, but Ella……”
Lisa looked toward Ella with a worried expression. Ella was holding tightly onto her female doll with an apron as she was shaking her legs. It was not because she was cold. Jo Minjun was used to this type of shaking. Jo MInjun looked back toward Anderson.
“Is there a restroom nearby?”
“Why. Is it urgent?”
Jo Minjun whispered to him in a quiet voice.
“Our little princess seems to need it urgently.”
“……Just hold it a little more. We’re almost there. It’ll be faster to go in the restaurant than randomly looking for one around here.”
It really wasn’t a lie. By the time Ella’s leg shake was starting to become extremely bad, the car had arrived at the front of the restaurant. Seeing Ella rush into the restroom while holding Lisa’s hand, Jo Minjun slowly got out of the car. He was used to the Korean writing that was in fancy calligraphy.
La seemed to be just the Korean pronunciation of LA. He couldn’t tell whether he should call it weird, or fashionable. It was an odd name. Anderson started to ask.
“What does La Joomak mean?”
“I think La is just pronouncing LA directly, while a Joomak is what they used to call places that sold alcohol and food in the olden days.”
“If it was in the olden days, do they not exist anymore? Makes sense. Just looking at this place makes it feel really old.”
Anderson was justified in his statement. La Joomak was built like the old Korean tile houses.  Even though Koreatown was called the Korea inside the US, it was not common to see such a building. Even in Korea, you would need to go to somewhere like Hanok Village  to see such tile houses. Jo Minjun started to ask.
“What do you think?”
“It should be fun since it is exotic. It feels different than the Chinese roofs.”
“The Chinese roofs seem fierce while the Korean one feels more calm. The food should be that way too. I’m sure you already know from the last couple of days.”
“To be honest with you, just based on first impressions, I have the highest expectations of this one.”
“I’m sure you do. You were the one who wanted to come here.”
Jo Minjun started to smile as he answered. Honestly speaking, Jo Minjun did not have any thoughts about coming here. The reason was simple. It was expensive. It was also not somewhere he needed to reference right now. This place seemed to serve more of the Imperial Feast than regular dishes.
The reason he was going around eating Korean food was to truly understand the cuisine that he frequently ate as a kid. The food that developed his palate. He needed to understand that in order to properly set the foundation as an epicurean. However, an Imperial Feast may still be considered Korean food, but it had nothing in common with the food Minjun ate as a kid. Of course the taste would be more refined, but it wouldn’t do anything to develop his palate……he didn’t think there would be anything he could learn from it.
Of course La Joomak was a good restaurant. It may not have a Michelin star, but it was one of the most recommended restaurants. It was always so busy that you needed to make your reservation about a month in advance. However, Jo Minjun did not need to wait long to come here.
The person smiling in front of the entrance was the reason he didn’t have to wait.
“Ah, you’re here. Minjun, Anderson, the rest of your group is already inside.”
“It’s been a while Chef Tae Hoon.”
“Ay, why are you being so formal and calling me chef. Just Tae Hoon is fine.”
Lee Tae Hoon was a chef at La Joomak. Other than the head chef and sous chef, he was the third highest ranking chef in La Joomak. The structure was a little different because it was a Korean restaurant, but if you were to put it in Rose Island’s terms, he was like the team leader of the demi chefs. Jo Minjun started to smile as he responded.
“Thank you for preparing this for us.”
“No worries. We had a canceled reservation, so we would be the ones losing money if we didn’t fill it. I’m sure Rose Island has quite the headache with reser……ah, you are not open yet.”
“Yes. Not long now though.”
“It’s probably really busy right now. Ah, it is this room.”
Lee Tae Hoon opened the jangjimoon . Once that happened, Anderson subconsciously let out a gasp. The other side of the door was covered in glass walls, and sunlight was gently entering the room through gaps from the garden and trees.
It was traditional that you needed to take your shoes off before entering the room. There was a low wooden table with cushions around it, and there was a large pit underneath the table to comfortably put your legs. There were two women sitting around the table already. It was Kaya and Chloe.
“Oh, Minjun. You’re here.”
“Why are you so late?”
“The traffic was terrible. Everybody seemed to be following me. They must have really wanted to see me.”
Jo Minjun jokingly answered before sitting down across from Kaya. Anderson shook his head as he sat down next to him. He then had a discontent expression.
“……If they were going to do it like this, why don’t they just have tables and chairs instead of digging a pit and putting cushions?”
“Why not. It’s pretty.”
“It’s pretty……but I’m looking at the practicality.”
“If everyone had used this type of method, you would be saying that at regular restaurants about their tables. Why do they make these chairs with such long legs. It would be easier to just dig a pit.”
“Your girlfriend sure knows how to talk.”
Kaya started to snicker. As Anderson started to shake his head thinking here she goes again, Chloe turned her head. Her gaze was turned toward the jangjimoon. There was a shadow on the other side of the door struggling to open it. However, she must not know that it opens sideways, as the door was moving back and forth.
In the end, Kaya stood up and approached the door. Once she pushed the door sideways to open it, the struggling Ella looked back and forth between Kaya and the door in shock. Kaya had a mocking smile of victory on her face.
“You push this to the side like this. You don’t even know something like this?”
Ella did not respond to Kaya’s provocation. She could not respond. Her eyes started to tear up like stars. Then her lips started to open wide with a smile.
“Ghloe! Ghloe fairy-nim!”
Ella put her pink rabbit socks on display as she started to run toward Chloe. Chloe started to look toward Ella with nervousness. Ella fumbled with her fingers with a completely red face as she pushed forward the doll that was on her side. A doll with black hair, a gentle smile, and an apron. It was a doll modeled after Chloe.
“I really really like fairy-nim!”
“Uh……why am I a fairy?”
“You did it on TV. Sandwich, appear! Yap! And then a sandwich came out.”
Chloe’s gaze moved up as she started to think about it. Now that she thought about it, she did recall a broadcast with such a concept. Ella took out a pen from the backpack on her shoulder. This was the reason Jo Minjun brought Ella and Lisa to dinner today. Ella was a fan of Chloe. An extremely passionate fan.
“Could you please sign the apron on this doll?”
“What should I write on it?”
“Please write To Ella.”
Chloe started to smile and move the pen. Seeing this, Kaya started to speak in an annoyed voice.
“She hates me but likes Chloe quite a bit.”
“Just be understanding. It is probably because you are love rivals. Plus, Chloe is really popular with the children.”
Lisa answered as she entered the room. Kaya, who had been grumbling, saw Lisa’s feet. To be specific, she saw the stockings on Lisa’s feet. Kaya then remembered that she was not wearing any socks and quickly moved back next to Chloe and put her legs under the table. She then started to mumble in an awkward voice.
“I think this is too erotic.”
“Erotic? What is?”
“People without socks need to show their bare feet.”
“……I’m not sure what is so erotic about bare feet?”
Anderson gave Kaya a look. It was the moment Kaya was about to retort back to Anderson. After acting cute next to Chloe for a while, Ella ran around the table and sat down next to Minjun. Having Ella there made more sense than having Lisa there, but …… Kaya didn’t really like that.
“Why are you sitting there?”
“Am I not allowed to sit here?”
“…… I guess you can.”
Ella rudely scoffed and turned her head. Chloe seemed to think Ella was really cute as she had a bright smile on her face. Jo Minjun was the same way. Seeing that, Kaya reached her feet underneath the table and pinched Minjun’s calf. Jo Minjun pushed backwards in pain and glared at Kaya. Kaya’s smile seemed to be telling him to be good, as she tapped on his leg with her foot.
He really wanted to let out a sigh, but he was worried about what terrible things might happen under the table if he really did that.
It did not take long for the food to arrive. They did not need to even order. That was one of the unique features of this restaurant. There was only one menu item, but you could not take it lightly.
A few moments later, the jangjimoon opened once more. Once it did, everybody was shocked. How could they not be? There was so much food that they could probably eat until they were stuffed even if there were ten of them. Kaya was amazed.
“Wow. I think this is the grandest feast I’ve ever had in my life.”
Jo Minjun looked toward the table with a blank expression. He had only seen such grand feasts in movies. There were so many dishes that he had lost count. Ella must have not felt like it was real, as she was completely stiff and looked uncomfortable. Lisa felt like she couldn’t even eat any of it and looked around the table.
“……Even if you took a bite out of every dish, you would probably full until lunch tomorrow.”
“I feel the same way.”
Jo Minjun quietly put the rice in his mouth first. The feel of the short rice kernels breaking down in his mouth was chewy and savory. Just tasting the rice helped him understand the level of this place.
As for the banchan , there were a lot of dishes that were foreign to him. Just the ingredients alone were things he was not used to seeing in Korea. There was no way general Korean cuisine had something like pickled artichokes.
Jo Minjun made sure to eat at least a small amount of rice every time he ate a bite of a side dish. You wouldn’t normally do this in a Western restaurant, but a lot of Korean dishes were only complete once you ate it with rice. He could feel that to be true as he ate the different banchans around the table.
Of course something like Tteok-bokki  was an exception. Imperial Tteok-bokki that was boiled in a soy-sauce based broth. The rice cake that was shaped like a bird’s egg was placed in his mouth with a piece of shank and paprika, and the sweetness of the vegetable created a perfect harmony with the juice from the meat and the seasoning on the rice cake. This was the most familiar dish for Jo Minjun among the Imperial Feast items. Because of that, he could tell that it was a really well-made Tteok-bokki. However……
“Bleh. This is weird.”
It did not seem to suite Ella’s tastes. The feeling of rice cake was one of the things foreigners found the most odd amongst Korean dishes. It was hard to get used to even after eating it multiple times. That slippery texture felt really weird. Jo Minjun looked toward Kaya and asked.
“Kaya. What do you think? In my opinion, this place seems to focus more on retaining the authentic flavor than localizing their food to meet the needs of the people…..is it hard to eat?”
“The overall feeling I get is that there are a lot of dishes with garlic and sesame seeds. The fragrance of the sesame oil is quite unique as well… it will be very difficult for people who are very picky eaters.
“Probably. Even in Korea, there are people who like the fragrance of coriander and those who hate it.”
Kaya’s words made sense. Dishes tended to show the characteristics of the nation quite deeply. The reaction to it was usually half and half. There were people who enjoyed the strong and shocking taste, but there were also people who found it difficult to eat.
“It makes me think about a lot of things. Even if it not just Korean food but cooking food of any nation …… is it more important to retain the authentic flavor of that country, or is it important to localize it to meet the needs of the customers.”
“I personally think both have their own charms. If you localize it, you can get closer to the general public. However, if you keep the authenticity, it might hold more sway toward epicureans. But …… even if epicureans say they aren’t biased, they all have the flavor of their home country ingrained in their palates. The majority of them tend to prefer restaurants that have localized.”
“……I think I can understand the meaning behind Teacher Rachel telling me to find my identity through Korean food. But it is kind of hard. I just keep having odd thoughts like this.”
“Can I say something?”
Chloe cautiously raised her hand. Jo Minjun nodded his head and answered.
“Of course. Do you have any advice?”
“Not necessarily an advice……but I wanted to tell you my experience. You know that I specialize more in Chinese cuisine than Western cuisine. But to be honest, mine is not traditional Chinese cuisine, but Americanized Chinese cuisine. Of course there are too many types of Chinese cuisine to call it all Chinese cuisine…… but anyways, this is what I want to say. It may feel like you are losing the authenticity when you put the word localized in front of it, but that is not necessarily the case. Even if you go to China, the characteristics of the dish will be different in the different regions. That is why I just consider Americanized Chinese cuisine to be like just another region of China. Wouldn’t Korean cuisine be the same way?”
“……If that is the case, what am I supposed to find from this?”
Chloe could not respond to that question. But Kaya casually threw out an answer.
“There has to be the foundational cooking method for all Korean cuisine. What and how much of an ingredient is used is the second question. The biggest question is the method you use to cook the dishes. And one more thing.”
Kaya lightly pushed down on Jo Minjun’s foot.
“Stop debating while you eat. You’re going to get indigestion. Sheesh.”