Friday, May 27, 2011

Milkis (밀키스)

Milkis is a Korean soda that's made by Lotte, a local conglomerate. In some ways, it seems like Lotte owns Korea--there are as many Lotte Marts (which I would compare to Target and not Wal-Mart) in the cities here as there are Mormon churches in Provo, Utah. Lotte also owns an amusement park called Lotte World, two baseball teams, some major hotels, a chain of cinemas, etc. From any window in any apartment in any city in Korea, you could probably see something Lotte owns.

For me, what makes Korea seem even more Lotte-saturated is that edible goods made by Lotte aren't sold exclusively in Lotte Marts. In the states, stores like Wal-Mart, Smith's, and Target have their own food brands, sure, but you don't see Kroger products at the Flying J, right? Now, I'm no expert on how this works, but Lotte sells things with the Lotte name in every convenience store around here. Whether you're taking care of your snack attack in a 7-11, a GS25, or a Family Mart, you're gonna find Lotte snacks.

Lotte's ubiquity isn't even limited to Korea. In fact, the first time I had Milkis--which was also the first time I saw the Lotte brand--was in the states. More specifically, it was in a little Asian market that's attached to a Korean BBQ in Logan, Utah. I was there with Alex Erickson, my good friend and then-housemate. As much as I'd like to take credit for my personal discovery of Milkis, and tell you all that I found it while on a major snacking adventure, it was actually Alex that introduced me to Milkis. He had fallen for Milkis during his time in Sacramento, and was looking for a fix in Utah. Although I'm sure Alex--with his steel trap of a mind--could tell you for sure, I can't remember whether he had already bought Milkis at the place in Logan, or if we were there to see if they even stocked it. Either way, they did have Milkis, and so we bought some. This is what a can of Milkis looks like:

If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see a strangely-worded English sentence just beneath the strangely-rendered moon and strangely-airborne woman. The sentence says "new feeling of soda beverage" and Alex pointed it out to me with a chuckle while we brought our Milkis to the cashier. 

Although I realize there's nothing intentionally deep behind the phrase "new feeling of soda beverage," I like to pretend that it's more than just a case of bad grammar. I like to think that the people marketing Milkis were so stunned by its taste that they simply couldn't say anything else. In this dream scenario, one of the marketing gurus trying to think of a slogan for Milkis was a fluent English speaker. He knew that stringing the words "new feeling of soda beverage" together was outside the lines of standard English grammar, but he also knew that nothing inside the lines would describe Milkis well enough. He knew that the nonsensical slogan made the most sense. 

Milkis is a soda that straddles the line between the strange and the familiar. The classic soda elements are there: sugar, carbonated water...sugar. But the strangeness comes from the fact the "milk" part of the name Milkis probably wasn't chosen just because it sounds cute or something--powdered milk is an ingredient. This is what Milkis looks like:

I know you're thinking that Milkis just looks like watered-down milk, and you're not wrong--it really does! But calling Milkis "milk soda" wouldn't be fair at all. Sure, there is powdered milk in it. Sure, you could even call it milky or creamy. But simply adding carbonated water to milk would be disgusting, and Milkis is not disgusting. Surprisingly, Milkis doesn't even taste very much like milk. I have a hard time pinning down this Korean soda's flavor, but I would suggest that it tastes sort of like a liquified mix of yogurt and the cream part of an orange dreamsicle. I hesitate to offer that description, however, because I'm not sure that calling Milkis "liquid yogurt cream" sounds more appealing than just calling it "milk soda." On the other hand, Milkis does have the slight tartness of yogurt, but the overall sweetness and creaminess found in the center of a dreamsicle, so I feel confident that my description is accurate enough, even if it doesn't improve the beverage's PR. 

Here's the best part, though: unlike all the snacks I've featured so far on this blog, I'm sure that Milkis is available in the states. For all of you reading this in America, you can actually try the drink, enjoy it, and then send me a thank you note in the comments section of this post. As I already mentioned, I know the Asian shop on main in Logan has oodles of Milkis. There's also a Cambodian shop in Salt Lake (that maybe Alex could post the address for in the comment section) with a few different flavors of Milkis (banana and orange, I think, but I prefer the original flavor). I also know there are several other Korean markets in the Salt Lake area based on the google search I just did. Hey, there are even some Asian markets in Provo that might have Milkis. So try some. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Diget (다이제)

I have loved Diget (pictured above) for almost as long as I have been in Korea, but I have put off writing about it. One reason is because I don't know what to write, because Diget is a simple, aggressively non-exotic snack. There's no sense of "can you believe they eat this here?" with Diget, and so I can't just rely on writing about a unique eating experience in a new culture. The other reason--probably the main reason--I've been hesitant to write about Diget biscuits (I'm using the term "biscuit" in the British sense, because I don't think the words cookie or cracker apply to Diget) is that I feel weird liking them so much and eating them so often. 

I know I just said that Diget isn't strange, so I'll try to explain why liking it could be seen as strange by explaining the pronunciation of the snack's name. Most likely, readers that don't speak Korean would assume that Diget is pronounced something like "digit." I thought the same at first, until I learned to read Korean (slowly and not super accurately, but I'm right about this word), and realized that Diget is pronounced like "digest," but without the "st." And so I had another epiphany: the snack I have been having a love affair with is basically Metamucil in biscuit form, which is embarrassing and reinforces my hypothesis that I am more geriatric than youthful. 

So now I live a life where I can't make eye-contact with the cashier at the convenience store near my school who sees me buy a sleeve of Diget nearly everyday. I have to put my Diget in the hard-to-spot nooks of my desk area so my co-workers don't wonder if I have bowel problems. When students come into the teachers' room and ask what I'm eating, I play coy and tell them it's just a biscuit while covering my stash of Diget with an English Land book. If they knew I was pounding whole sleeves of Diget during my breaks, they would respect me even less than they already do. I would be the guy who can't understand when they make fun of me in Korean or make a decent number two without help. What's worse is that I didn't even start eating Diget because of digestive issues, but it would be more awkward to confront the issue and say, "Oh I don't, like, need Diget for, um, that reason. They just taste really good."

There is a good chance, however, that my paranoia about my Diget intake, and how I'm perceived as a result of it, is unfounded. I'm starting to think that there's no stigma attached with eating Diget here. Despite the fact that the biscuits are clearly marketed as digestive aids, I think that maybe Koreans don't see them as only that. Like how Goonies isn't just for kids. 

So lately I've been watching the cashier ring me up when I buy Diget, looking for her reaction to my purchase. She never seems phased. She never chuckles, sighs, or scoffs. Nothing. Not even the time when I bought two sleeves in one day. Of course, she could be such a pro that she never acts surprised by even the strangest of purchases. She could be the Queen's Guard of Family Mart clerks. 

But my observations don't stop there: I've also seen people eating Diget in public. Just sitting in the park, these people, munching on Diget and watching their kids rollerblade with their jeans tucked into the skates. That being said, everyone I have seen eating Diget in public has been at least 40, and people-of-a-certain-age tend not to care if their snacking choices are weird. Or perhaps they actually need help with their stool situation so badly that they don't have the luxury of medicating in private. Either way, people over the age of 40 aren't exactly the best people to judge snacking normalcy by. I need someone younger and hipper. Enter Bobby.

Bobby is 8 or 9 and comes to Wonderland in the afternoons for a few classes, and then sticks around until his mom gets him at around 930 in the evening. I ironically call him "King of Limbs" because of the way he just flops around all day, unaware of what any of his appendages are doing. 

Here's a true story about Bobby: I was sitting next to him during class once, and he sneezed into his hand seven times. I actually counted seven distinct but rapid sneezes. I told him not to touch me, because he has a habit of just sort of clinging to whatever is near him like a fast-motion vine, and he looked at me, smiled, and rubbed his hands all over my arms. I noticed a sore throat (one of about six since I've been here) coming on later that night. I guess I was dumb to give him the idea, but I'm sure his limbs would have found a way to infect me before he washed his hands no matter what I did. 

Anyway, so Bobby came stumbling into the teacher's room one evening and caught me, mouth full of biscuit and crumbs all over my shirt, snacking on some Diget. He asked what I was eating, and my my tower of biscuits was sitting right there, so I just pointed at the stack with my lips. Bobby then said, "Ooo! Diget!" and held out his hand. I gave him one. He ate it and asked for another. I marveled at what I was seeing--a young, hip kid was eating Diget and loving it. At first I was happy, thinking Bobby gave me proof that Diget is an okay snack for anyone at anytime. But then I wondered whether Bobby's zest for Diget meant anymore than an old person's. He is, after all, the snot-nosed-brat who thought it was funny to wipe his sneezy hand on my arm. 

So. Although I want to believe that Bobby eating Diget without needing to makes it normal for me to eat Diget whenever I want, I still can't entirely shake the idea that the biscuits are mostly seen as a snack for blocked-up baby boomers. 

But that doesn't mean I have stopped--or will ever stop--snacking way hard on Diget. I have found too many things to love about Diget to let my embarrassment or paranoia (both of which, of course, were exaggerated for effect in the preceding paragraphs) stop me from enjoying it. Diget is the perfect snack for my prep period breaks at school, because the biscuits are hearty enough that they give me some energy, but they're sweet enough to feel like treats. Grab a chocolate milk, a pack of Diget, maybe throw in an apple--baby, you got yourself a snack break