A hit in the west, mukbangs started at the Korean table

By Nadine Kam I

If you follow Korean culture, you’ll eventually arrive at the mukbang.

Mukbangs started out true to the meaning of the word that translates as “eating video,” based on early variety TV shows that had hosts following guests on eating adventures. They took off in South Korea because of its highly social culture. In the absence of friends or family, people found they were a comforting way to vicariously enjoy a meal with others.

These days, mukbangs have become more commonly associated with the trainwreck spectacle of watching people gorge on massive piles of food on par with competitive eaters.

Food is one of the first subjects people tend to think of when they hear the word “Korean.” When I mention K-pop, people often start making associations and talk about K-dramas and how they make them hungry because the characters are always eating. That is part of Korean branding. Its democratic government knew South Korea would never achieve power through might, so they pushed soft power, winning people over with their food, music, entertainment and culture. It worked as interest in such soft subjects has boosted South Korea’s economy through interest in its electronics, food and beauty products, its tourism industry and enrollment in Korean language schools.

K-pop stars have to continuously come up with ways to keep fans entertained and one of them is through eating segments on their live feeds, travelogs or video diaries. BlackPink’s Rosé is one of the cutest eaters, maybe because of her chipmunk cheeks. I need to watch and learn from her!

I am constantly in restaurants because I write about them for a living, so mukbangs were a natural extension of what I was already doing. Bringing them back to their original form, the intent is to introduce some of Hawaii’s new restaurants, popular and trendy places, holes-in-the-wall venues that people may miss, and high-end restaurants that some may not be able to afford but still want “to experience” through the camera lens before deciding whether or not to commit their hard-earned dollars to a firsthand visit.

My latest was a visit to Don E Don restaurant at 919 Keeaumoku St., which is best known for red pepper pork spareribs and sea salt spareribs, differing from many Korean restaurants that tend to focus on beef.

It’s a relatively small space that tends to fill up quickly at peak lunch and dinner hours, but worth checking out.

A Kaneohe Bakery is home to the surprising K-pop sandwich

By Nadine Kam I

If you’re ever in Kaneohe, you might want to check out the Korean bakery Ono2Guys for its unique “croissant Korean-style sandwich,” also known as the Idol or K-pop sandwich ($4.76) because of its link to K-pop stars.

One of the two guys behind the bakery, Ewa Kim, spent more than a decade as a director at SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), which hosts the weekly music show “SBS Inkigayo,” starring popular and rookie music artists. Only celebs and staffers of SBS had access to a fourth-floor cafeteria where one of the most popular items was an egg sandwich with coleslaw and the one ingredient that sets it apart from your typical savory sandwich, strawberry jam.

The K-pop sandwich is a Korean samsaek, or tri-color sandwich. At the SBS Studio cafeteria, the sandwich features a combo of yellow egg salad, red strawberry jam and green lettuce. Kaneohe bakery Ono2Guys makes it with the pink and red of ham and strawberry jam, yellow of cheeses and green of lettuce and cucumbers.


By Western standards, it’s an unusual combination, but Kim said he grew up eating similar samsaek, or three-color, sandwiches made by his mom.

Because he said some people consider egg to be stinky, he swaps it out at his bakery with ham and Swiss and American cheeses, to which he also adds the crunch of cucumbers. He also substituted the usual white bread for a croissant, and the combination is divine! I’m not sure why it works, but it does, and he said it must be strawberry jam. He’s tried many other flavors, but said none work as well.

Another reason for the sandwich’s notoriety? Just as the Chinese used mooncakes to relay messages of rebellion against 14th century Mongol rule, the idols use this particular food item to carry more sociable greetings.

Also available at Ono2Guys are sausage pizzas, individually wrapped and ready to go.

According to the website Soompi, former Big Bang member Seungri said idols, whose contracts often forbid dating, would slip notes and phone numbers under the plastic wrap and gift the sandwich to someone else without their managers’ knowledge of the extra ingredient.

Ono2Guys is also home to a range of savory and sweet buns such as those with curry potato filling or chocolate custard cream, cupcakes and Crazy Loaf breads filled with Korean sweet potato, sugared chestnuts or red beans. Always the music lover, Kim said the loaves are named “Crazy” because that’s the song that was playing while he initially experimented with the loaves.

Ono2Guys is at 45-773 Kamehameha Highway. Call 808.762.3111.

BTS makes history on SNL stage

By Nadine Kam I

BTS made history April 13 as the first Korean group to perform on “Saturday Night Live” in its 44 years. It was a big night for both parties, and my feeling is that SNL needed them more.

After telling all my friends to watch the show for BTS, I actually fell asleep for about 15 minutes while waiting for them to appear. Part of it was the result of being in a food coma from having dinner at GEN Korean BBQ’s official grand opening Pearlridge Center. The other part was that the rest of the show hosted by Emma Stone was soooooo boring. It just reaffirmed why I stopped watching the show a year ago after discovering K-pop.

Here’s a quote from Bustle.com that echoes my sentiment:

“While an SNL performance is usually a big deal for musical artists, this episode marked the rare occasion that getting a particular musical guest seemed to actually be a big deal for SNL. It’s not every week that SNL ends up being the top trending topic in America, and the group’s presence seems to have brought a whole new audience to the show that may not usually stay up to watch live.”

😋: How I ate that sent me to sleep

I was able to catch the performance of “Mic Drop” but it’s an old one for them. I guess they chose to perform that song because it’s one they haven’t performed on any of their American award show appearances, and their last album, “Love Yourself: Answer’s” most powerful group song was “Idol,” which they’d performed a lot in this country. Much of the album was filled with solo songs from each member that help to give the group a rest from strenuous choreography during their live shows. While one is on stage, the others can take a breather.

I was able to catch their performance of “Boy With Luv” online after the show, and over two days probably watched it about 30 times. I loved seeing how happy and relaxed they were on stage. I loved seeing Taehyung’s (blue hair) smiles and expressions, and of course Jimin (orange hair) was as sexy as expected. They were all in such a good mood.

In a previous post I mentioned that I was really looking forward to hearing Halsey on the new BTS song. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by how small her vocal part was in the music video, but she does get a verse in the recording. I believe they downplayed her vocal because they don’t want audiences to get accustomed to hearing her voice and miss it when she’s not there during their concerts.

With 74.6 million views in one day, the MV for “Boy With Luv” broke the record for the biggest 24-hour debut, that was set by compatriots Black Pink just one week ago for “Kill This Love.” That video had 56.7 million views in 24 hours.

Although fans loved the colorful MV, they seemed to enjoy the SNL performance even more for the same reasons I did. It was trending at No. 2 on YouTube for two days, topped only by the new “Star Wars Episode 9” trailer.

👁 🎧 “Boy With Luv” video and explainer by DKDKTV

Eat, drink like EXO and BTS

By Nadine Kam

I’m not one who needs a pop-culture reference to spark a culinary expedition, but I understand the impulse. Films like “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” each left me hungry for nigiri sushi and Chinese food, respectively. Alas, in those cases, similar cuisine was nowhere to be found on Oahu at that time. (Great sushi bars have since materialized.)

When traveling, K-pop stars inevitably start missing a taste of home, and that’s how I ended up following in their footsteps to a couple of restaurants in town for some “When Harry Met Sally”-style, “I’ll have what he’s having moment.”  

That’s how I ended up at Seoul Jung restaurant, not exactly a top-of-mind Korean restaurant for locals because of its hidden status, tucked away on the second floor of the Waikiki Resort Hotel, and at New Shilawon Korean restaurant, where I was also eager to try a holiday special of $9.99 samgyetang, kalbi soup or kalbi and vegetable soup.

BTS was here on the Big Island and Oahu in spring 2017 for the season 2 filming of their annual summer vacation package “Bon Voyage.” Some places they showed up included Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo, and Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in Haleiwa.

Fans pay tribute to BTS with their artwork at Mikawon Korean restaurant.

They split up three ways for dinner one night, but two of the groups including R.M. (Kim Nam-joon), J-Hope (Jung Ho-seok), Park Jimin, Jeon Jung-kook and Jin (Kim Seok-jin) ended up at Mikawon, where one wall has become a shrine to BTS, with guests adding their artwork memorializing their visit to the restaurant.

Meanwhile, Sugar (Min Yoon-gi) and V (Kim Tae-hyung) ended up at Seoul Jung, where I was able to sample the mul naengmyeon (cold noodle soup) and doenjang jigae (soy bean paste stew) that nearly drove them to tears after being away from Korean food for two weeks.

 BTS’s V and Suga enjoyed a quiet dinner at Seoul Jung restaurant in Waikiki.

As soon as I was seated at Seoul Jung, I asked the wait staff if they remembered BTS, and they did! From there I had 100 questions like, “Were they cute? Were they funny? Did you talk to them?” Only to find Suga and V left no strong impression. I was told they were quiet and polite, sitting in the very back of the restaurant in a room with more privacy than in the main dining room.

People are not usually seated there unless the main dining room is full. That’s when I was told about Japanese visitors who show up with screenshots in hand and, matching up the artwork on the walls, beg to sit in the same seats Suga and V occupied. I was fine with sitting in one of the booths outside that room.

The restaurant caters to the Korean palate, with flavors lighter and more refined than local-style Korean. In fact, throughout their visit and sampling local food, the BTS members’ reaction to most local food was that it is extremely salty.

Their dinner included a refreshing bowl of mul naengmyeon.

In contrast, Suga said Seoul Jung’s food “hit the spot,” and the soy bean stew ($16.95) reminded him of his mom’s cooking. Their smiles, tears and quiet reverie as they emptied their bowls said a lot.

The mul naengmyeon ($15.50), or cold noodle soup, was refreshing. The buckwheat noodles were topped with slices of apple and half a boiled egg, in a broth of beef and vegetables, brightened with vinegar and clear soda. It’s served with extra vinegar for those who crave more of the sourness associated with authentic Korean fare.

I could taste why Suga appreciated the doenjang jigae ($16.95). It had the flavor of home, mild and comforting, a simple soybean paste, tofu, beef and vegetable stew that one could eat every day without tiring of it.

Because no Korean meal feels complete without meat, I added on the L.A.-style grilled, sliced kalbi ($28.95), so succulent and tender it was easily the highlight of the meal. Wang-style kalbi on the bone ($28.95) is also available, but I was in a lazy, no-fuss mood, so having the shortribs finished and cut in the kitchen was fine with me. Both arrive on a sizzling platter.
If you’re the grill-it-yourself type, you can always order assorted meats for a customized yakiniku experience. Selections range from kalbi and sirloin ($26.75 each), to black pork belly ($23.95), beef tongue ($24.75) and beef tripe ($25.95).

At New Shilawon Korean restaurant, I’m in the seat that was occupied by Exo’s Chen, at front left. My friend Ritsuko Kukonu is in the center seat that was occupied by D.O., and next to her, Lindsey Muraoka is in Baekhyun’s seat.

EXO also showed up Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2018 for filming and photo shoots, and in addition to being spotted at Champs Sports Bar in Kaimuki and the Haleiwa McDonald’s, showed up for dinner their last night in town at New Shilawon restaurant, where they enjoyed kalbi jjim ($26.95), kim chee jeon ($16.99), fish roe stew ($19.95) and yakiniku.

A few weeks later I was there to try the restaurant’s lunch special (through Dec. 22) of ginseng chicken soup, but yakiniku sounds good to me, so as a meat eater, I’ll probably revisit soon. The banchan and food are great here, and so is the staff.

The yakiniku is $29.95 or $34.95 per person (minimum two people) for all-you-can-eat, lunch or dinner. For $29.95 15.99 for children ages 5 to 10), meat options are pork belly, beef brisket, BBQ chicken, bulgogi and spicy pork. For $34.95 the selectors is greater: ribeye, beef tongue, beef brisket, cubed beef flank, pork belly, kalbi, bulgogi, BBQ chicken and spicy pork. Typical all-you-can eat rules are in effect, like a two-hour time limit, $3 per plate fee for leftovers and no take-out.

Couldn’t leave without checking out Kai, Suho, Xiumin and Chanyeol’s signatures on the wall at the front of the restaurant.

IF YOU WANT TO GO:

Mikawon Korean Restaurant: 2310 Kuhio Ave. Call 808.924.3277
New Shilawon Korean Restaurant: 747 Amana St. Call 808.944.8700
Seoul Jung: Waikiki Resort Hotel, 2460 Koa Ave. Call 808.921.8620