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Exploring the Amazingly Unexpected Combo of Korean Barbecue and American Fast Food

We spoke to the guys behind Busan BBQ, a bunch of Londoners doing maverick things with their "Amerikorean" take on barbecue cuisine.
02 August 2015, 3:04pmUpdated on 02 August 2016, 3:04pm
"Image taken from Da-Hae's book K-Food, available now"

This is a sponsored article created by Jägermeister. MUNCHIES editorial team was not involved in the creation of this article.

Some bright spark out there recently thought well and truly outside the box and decided that 1.7 fl oz Jägermeister, ginger beer, some cucumber, and a dash of lime might taste pretty good in a glass. They called it Root56 and they sent it out into the world, and the world, thus far, have strongly approved of it, despite the apparent incongruity of its ingredients. Using Jägermeister in a cocktail is a pretty unexpected—some might say maverick—move, but it works. By God, it works.

With the spirit of Root 56 in mind, we spoke to the guys behind Busan BBQ, a bunch of Londoners who are also doing some pretty unexpected, maverick things, in their case with what they call their "Amerikorean" take on barbecue cuisine. If you're hungry and adventurous, London is a wonderful place to be—never have there been so many choices cooked up by chefs taking culinary cues from all sorts of cultures. And it's not just happening on the gleaming surfaces of restaurant kitchens. You can barely turn a corner without finding a food truck, and it's a testament to their quality that eating out of a van is no longer considered a depressing throwback to terrible burgers, or a food blogging affectation.

It's in these vehicles that you will find some of the more unexpected combinations of flavours and cuisines. Wanting to know why these unusual dishes are so in demand right now, I caught up with Da-Hale West, one half of the husband and wife team behind the 'Amerikorean' Busan BBQ truck.

Some reasons for success are simple. "There's so much competition, especially in London, so that drives everyone to try and be the best that they can be," Da-Hae tells me.

Others go deeper. Da-Hae was born in Korea, but moved to the UK when she was three. After she and Gareth married, they visited Korea for their honeymoon. "It was Gareth's first trip and he was really blown away by all the food, as the only Korean food he'd ever tried were the one or two dishes I cooked at home for him." Despite the exposure to all this Korean cuisine, it was a visit to a thoroughly western eatery that served as the primary inspiration for Busan BBQ.

"McDonald's in different countries do their own national versions of the menu we all know, and I thought we should try out the Korean twist McDonald's add to their burgers when we were over there." While it might not have been the greatest burger in the world, the unorthodox coupling of American food with Korean flavours commanded their attention. "We were actually inspired by that burger – that Western fast food style mixed with Korean marinades and sauces. It's just the perfect combination. We thought why not do our own take on it?"

Busan BBQ was the result. Much like the straightforward ginger beer/Jager combo that is Root56, Busan BBQ's menu is relatively simple, pairing two staple Korean marinades with American dishes like fried chicken, burgers and pork belly. "We take traditional marinades which are normally used for Korean barbecue, where the meat is cooked on a charcoal grill in the middle of the dining table. One of them is a soy sauce-based marinade with garlic, ginger, and spring onion. Then we have a spicy marinade that we mix with pork that's made from gochujang, the Korean chilli bean paste, and that's kind of sweet and salty and spicy, so it's a really good, balanced flavour."

According to Da-Hae, the sauces "complement the natural flavours of the meat". Where the regularly derided concept of 'fusion' cooking can result in overpowering intrusions on the palate, Busan BBQ offers a more delicate interpretation of something that, on paper, sounds like it could go very wrong. "It's making American barbecue food but taking the traditional sauces and ingredients that I've grown up with and using those in our dishes." Given the success of Busan BBQ (they've recently released a cookery book) it seems like Da-Hae and Gareth's particular fusion was meant to be.

I mean if even the biggest fast food chain in the world can pull it off, it must really be one of the most perfect, unexpected combinations out there.

Try an ice cold Root56 with your burger this summer.

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