New Staffer Lia Jung brings you the scoop on Ferris fare.

SECOND week into the semester, and already feeling slightly nauseous from consuming way too much Nutella, pizza toppings and barely defrosted carrot slices I once again forced myself into Ferris, wondering why I made the rookie mistake of picking the 864-meals-a-week first-year plan instead of sticking with a less abundant plan like everyone else (In my defense, I thought I’d be visiting these dining halls at least twice a day).

As it was a Friday night, there was already an exhaustive mass awaiting in front of the action station. Not wanting to waste fifteen minutes sluggishly shifting along the line just to find out they were serving plates of berry yogurt, I skipped to the front to check out the menu. And what do I find, but the exciting and promising words that read “Korean-Style Burrito”!

In my head, the image of tortilla wrapped around garlic-infused sweet Bulgogi, tangy kimchi and steaming white rice appeared in its deliciously tempting form. Suddenly, the prospect of dining at Ferris wasn’t so bland anymore. I was intrigued, a verb I didn’t think would ever be associated with a Columbia dining hall experience.

It just so happened that Friday night was Chuseok (a major harvest festival and national holiday in Korea), and I was feeling rather wistful from all the cheerful Instagram stories posted by friends and family back in Seoul. Naturally, you can imagine how my homesick and miserable spirit was lifted by the promise of something “Korean”, even if it was fusion.

After getting a burrito, I settled down before taking an eager bite. Seconds into chewing, my taste buds were alarmed by what was evidently…teriyaki chicken. No Kimchi, no Korean-BBQ sauce, no scallions, but bloody teriyaki sauce with warm pickled radishes (which I suspect is what Ferris considered to be “kimchi”) with rice and tortilla.

Perplexed, I immediately took a picture and sent it to my South-Korean friend. Does this look in any way Korean to you? I asked him. No, the color scheme is not nearly vibrant enough for that to be Korean, he replied.

Ok- why should I be surprised that the burrito was a massive disappointment? It’s a college dining hall after all, not some Twitter-famous food truck down at a farmer’s market. I admit that I was too optimistic to start off with. But it’s still ridiculous that Ferris would serve something and label it “Korean” when none of its ingredients (including the rice) would be considered Korean.

My initial disappointment and confusion were soon replaced by a deep concern and irritation over the fact that some students might eat this piece of monstrosity believing that this was actually incorporating flavors of Korea. It didn’t help that I overheard someone saying “Wait, this doesn’t taste like what I had in K-Town”- I had to suppress the urge to shout, NO IT DEFINITELY ISN’T BECAUSE THERE’S TERIYAKI IN HERE!

This isn’t the first time Columbia dining halls have done questionable things to Asian cuisine in their meals- several weeks before there was a post uploaded on Columbia Buy Sells that showed a picture of a “Chinese Congee”, which was basically a pot full of broth with rice floating around. And the number of times I’ve heard students complaining about the sushi-roll at John Jay is beyond what I’d have hoped for.
The issue here isn’t the quality of the food, but rather the accuracy between what the food is being labelled as and what it actually is on the plate. And this is the main reason why fusion cuisine, especially Asian fusion, has always been accused of muddling cultures—it problematizes authenticity for people. But fusion is everywhere; even by looking at the pasta or pizza station in Ferris, you can say that it’s definitely not traditional pasta/pizza. But we still recognize them as belonging to those categories of food, and there is no controversy in whether putting meatballs on pizza is cultural appropriation (I mean, it’s still weird as heck Ferris).

But there is a difference between having your version of the original thing, and treating different and distinct Asian characteristics as interchangeable- like putting in teriyaki sauce in a burrito and calling it “Korean-style”. It’s a problem, because it ultimately feeds into this false notion that Asia and “Asianess” is a homogeneous, monolithic entity. Someone I met in an Ancient Egypt class confessed that for a long time they mistook Kimchi as Japanese, because the Japanese place she used to go to served them kimchi. And at a party from last month, a guy came up to ask me “what the difference between dumplings in China and Korea” was.

I’m sure no-one remembers that there was even a Korean-style burrito at Ferris that Friday night, and that such mishaps shouldn’t be taken so seriously. And while I found this not-Korean burrito quite amusing, I still think it’s important for Columbia, with its large body of Asian-American/International students to consider how food from certain cultures are being presented in their dining halls.

Fooood via Lia Jung