In the US, it's been my observation that there isn't much focus on international competition (biannual Olympics aside). The major sports organizations like the NBA, MLB, and NFL seem content assimilating foreign athletes rather than opening up the doors to foreign teams. In other parts of the world, regional and global competitions are followed with great fervor and are a source of national pride. That's why I was so excited when the The World Baseball Classic was conceived in 2006 as a way for the best players in each country to come together and compete for for the title of world baseball champion.
For being the quintessential American sport, baseball has attracted quite a global following. In Japan and Korea, where the sport was introduced in the early part of the last century, it's become a national obsession. The dueling Asian countries have also become quite adept at it, competing in their own leagues, and occasionally sending over their best to our shores to play in Major League Baseball.
Despite the common love of baseball and a shared history spanning over two millenea, there's a lot of bad blood between the countries. As a Japanese/Korean couple, L and I have always scoffed at those that would drive a wedge between our two countries, but all that changed when Korea beat Venezuela and Japan beat the US in the semi finals of the WBC. Since then, we've been lobbing salvos of nationalism over the coffee table in an escalating brinkmanship that threatened to explode into a full blown international incident come Monday night's championship game.
To reconcile the rift that was forming, I devised a menu that married ballpark food from the two countries that you might find in Jamsil Stadium in Korea or the Tokyo Dome in Japan. This of course was accompanied by copious amounts of beer from both factions. With Korea closing a 2 run lead at the bottom of the ninth, the game went into a 10th inning where the Japanese scored 2 more runs to win the game! ...and yet all was silent on the home front. The ploy had succeeded, and aside from a mound of dishes, there was no carnage to speak of. Here's the peace making menu:
Korean Style Garlic Edamame - This is my play on garlic fries, taking Japanese bar snack edamame and making it more Korean by seasoning it with salt, sesame oil and garlic, which gives it a flavour similar to Sukju Namul.
Oh Jing Uh and Jee Po with Spicy Cod Roe Mayo - Dried fish and dried squid are snacks commonly eaten all over Asia, but these are the Korean versions. I've grilled and paired them with a dipping sauce made from a 50/50 mixture of karashi mentai (spicy cod roe) and Japanese mayonaise. It sounds odd, but the combo goes well together and makes for a very Japanese counterpoint to the grilled dried seafood.
Yakitori Ssam - Yakitori literally means grilled chicken in Japanese and typically comes on skewers, a perfect baseball stadium concession. For this combo, I marinated the chicken thighs in Korean bulgogi marinade before skewering and grilling them. Once they were nice and smokey, I served them off the skewers with lettuce leaves, hot sauce and shredded Korean pear, so they could be rolled into ssam (Korean lettuce wrap). Recipe here.
Spicy Yakisoba - For the last bit of cross cultural ballgame fare, I created this pan fried noodle dish that's another Japanese ballpark favourite. Typically seasoned with a sweet brown sauce, the noodles are fried with veggies, seafood and/or meat and comes topped with aonori (green nori) and benishoga (pickled red ginger). To give it a Korean twist, I added a dollop of gochujang to the sauce to give it a spicy kick. Recipe here.
Perhaps I'm an idealist, but as humans who eat, sleep and work to better ourselves and our society, we're not all that different from each other. I believe that food is the perfect way to bridge gaps between cultures, creeds and ethnicities, focusing on harmonies and similarities over rifts and differences. As a chef, when was the last time you thought to yourself "How can I combine this combine ingredient A from Japan and ingredient B from France and make them taste terrible?" Cooking is all about exploring new possibilities and discovering new ingredients to add to your toolbox of flavours without loosing your identity, and in that respect, it makes for the perfect diplomat.