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“When I moved to Korea, I found an entirely new universe of food to explore. And the more I discovered, the more questions I found.”
“When I moved to Korea, I found an entirely new universe of food to explore. And the more I discovered, the more questions I found.”
  • Tra My Nguyen - WalkintoKorea
  • 승인 2023.08.08 12:40
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In a world where flavors tell stories and meals are portals to culture, Austin Givens has embarked on a remarkable journey.

As the world becomes more interconnected, our curiosity about different cultures and cuisines grows stronger. Austin Givens, a 35-year-old American living in Korea, has turned his passion for food into a captivating YouTube channel called "Eating What is Given". In this channel, Austin delves into the intricate world of Korean cuisine, uncovering its nuances and sharing his discoveries with viewers around the globe.

Eating what is Given 오스틴
Eating what is Given 오스틴 - Youtube Channel

What inspired you to start a YouTube channel specifically dedicated to Korean food experiences?

I have always been obsessed with food and how it connects us with culture and history. My family ran a small butcher shop in my hometown growing up, so I have many memories connected with that childhood experience. I remember helping my grandfather and uncle make homemade sausage and working with my brother in our family’s food truck on the weekends. I was also very inspired by the writing and journalism of Anthony Bourdain, and when I studied for my master’s degree in New York, I took a part-time job at an artisanal cheese shop. I have always been obsessed with how food connects us with people and our history. When I moved to Korea, I found an entirely new universe of food to explore. And the more I discovered, the more questions I found. I want to keep on learning, more and more.

What are some unique aspects of Korean food culture that you've discovered through your experiences and interactions with locals?

Korean food is incredibly unique from my own culture’s in many aspects, and I still think the outside world doesn’t fully understand how to approach it. Korean food, not just the cooking, but the actual eating of Korean food, takes an entirely different philosophy to enjoy. This “philosophy” of eating is something I am still learning myself. One example is with “banchan.” Most translations of the word call “banchan” as “side-dishes.” Actually, I hate this translation, and I hope we can simply adopt this word similar to how we have adopted “kimchi” into the zeitgeist already. With Korean food, it feels like the table itself fills with the ingredients (the banchan), which surround the main dish, some protein or soup, and a bowl of rice.

"반찬 (ban-chan) is still something I am trying to fully understand. The translation, side dish, is really not even close to describing this complex and unique culinary culture." - Photo: Instagram 'eatingwhatisgiven'

In this way, the Korean table becomes sort of a painter’s palette, and your taste is like the canvass. Good Korean food demands more from the eater themselves. It is the diner’s job to use this banchan to make a variety of bites to enjoy throughout the meal. And usually, the Korean table has so much variety for you to mix and match and play with. Usually, there is something sweet, salty, tangy, sour, savory, stinky, clean, cold, hot, crunchy, soft, dry, wet, etc. all found from the banchan on the table. Of course, you can enjoy each one individually, like a side dish. But the real magic, the real beautiful artwork, comes from the eater mixing all this together. It is completely different from the culture I am used to, where the “chef” is behind the scenes in the kitchen, making the dish itself. The diner has very little responsibility, besides just putting whatever it is into their mouth. I think this unique philosophy has also pushed Korean food culture to appreciate farmers and the quality of ingredients more.

 The best butcher shop for 부속고기 (off-cuts) in Daejeon! - Photo: Instagram 'eatingwhatisgiven'

Can you share a memorable or challenging food experience you've had in Korea that left a lasting impression on you?

I am continually looking for more and more challenging foods throughout my life, not for some “shock” value bragging rights, but to expand my own mind to what cuisine can be. Something very memorable for me would be the raw food culture which is very prominent in the South Jeolla region. For example, in Haenam, raw chicken is commonly consumed when ordering a chicken course meal. They serve boiled eggs, sliced raw chicken breast, raw chicken gizzard, and raw chicken feet. They proudly display this as if to brag about the quality and freshness of the domestic chicken they are using in the dishes.

However, the first time I ate this, my hands were shaking a little, as it is something I was always taught to avoid. Now, I admire it and seek it out any time I am in the region. I felt the same way when eating raw pork for the first time at a small butcher shop in Gyeonggi-do. But of course, there are many moments such as this. Honghoe, or fermented skate, is something foreigners and even many Koreans turn their noses up to due to the smell. However, high-quality domestic honghoe is actually incredible. I wish more people and chefs from all around the world would have a chance to experience it.

What are your future plans for your YouTube channel? Are there any upcoming food-related projects in Korea that you're excited to share with your audience?

Austin in the 'Daejeon is U' newspapers - Photo: Instagram 'eatingwhatisgiven'

In the future, I would love to explore and learn more about Korean ingredients other than just visiting famous restaurants. I hope to capture how things such as honghoe are actually made, or how jang (sauce) is fermented. I would also love to learn more about traditional Korean alcohol. I am also happy to share more about Daejeon, my hometown here in Korea, since I feel that many people have a misunderstanding about my city. I think there is incredible food and restaurants to share here, but many people don’t know about it. I would like to see more tourism here in Daejeon, because I think it’s the best city to live in Korea.

 'Eating what is given' information

In a world where food serves as a universal language, Austin Givens has carved a niche for himself by bridging cultures through the lens of Korean cuisine. His YouTube channel, "Eating What is Given", serves not only as a virtual culinary expedition but also as a testament to the power of food to foster understanding, appreciation, and friendship across borders. As he continues to explore, learn, and share, Austin's journey inspires us to embark on our own adventures, one plate at a time.

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