WONJU, South Korea — When you think of truly American cuisine, barbecue is one of the first things to come to mind. There’s no denying that Americans eat a lot of it, and we here in Kansas City have made it a source of civic pride.
But is that love for smoky meats universal? Would folks from as far away as the Korean peninsula share Americans’ love for the grill?
One Korean American filmmaker reached out to beloved restaurants in the most iconic BBQ cities in the U.S. to bring some western flavor to the Far East. Film producer and KC native Eric McLee with the YouTube channel DigitalSoju TV gathered North Koreans (now living in South Korea) for a foreign taste test.
Kansas City’s own Gates Bar-B-Q sent bottles of sauce for the film project. Also contributing their signature brands were 12 Bones of North Carolina, LawLers of Alabama, and Rudy’s of Texas.
Several North Korean defectors sat down with Steve from popular media network Asian Boss to try all the staples: pulled pork, brisket, ribs, sausage, and smoked chicken.
One woman exclaims after tasting Gates sauce, “I could eat it with just rice!”
They have some surprising reactions to the various dishes in the experiment, and some other interesting cultural differences emerge.
One woman describes her difficulty using a fork, which she recalls North Korean leaders describing as a utensil “those American bastards” use.
Others describe their aversion to bread, and discuss how rare it is to eat meat in North Korea. One man said eating beef could even get you put to death.
“Eating beef is enough to get you executed. They’ll shoot you,” he said (translated), explaining that because there is so little machinery, cattle are needed for manual labor.
Filmmaker Eric McLee said in an email, “I realized the importance and impact BBQ culture has on our city and my family. I’m also of South Korean decent, and through my experiences, I realized the importance of how food acts as a medium to bring worlds together. This project literally hit home for me in both worlds (Korea/America). We thought it would be a great idea to show case to the world North Korean defectors’ stories of their life in North Korea and their experiences now living in South Korea. We knew American BBQ was the perfect fit.”