In between interviews, the cookbook author and food blogger made time for everything from stacks of seaweed to bulgogi pizza.
When Molly Yeh arrived in Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics, she had a mission: Film several arts and culture segments on life at the games for the official Olympic Channel. That meant interviews with Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, of course, but also chats with hockey players about their favorite type of pickles, visits to the private dining hall set up just for the skiers and snowboarders, and a fit of messy crying during Marai Nagasu’s history-making performance (you can read her entire Olympics recap here). But the mega popular food blogger and cookbook author couldn’t stay away from the food at the Olympic complex—especially the snacks. Yeh, whose new cookbook, Yogurt—the ingredients she calls the “duct tape of food”—comes out March 14 but is available for pre-order, chatted with Food & Wine about her wildest food adventures while reporting from the Olympics.
“The most exciting food experience was going to Gangneung Central food market, which is not too far from the ice arena,” recalls Yeh. “It had stacks and stacks of seaweed, which was some of the best seaweed I’d ever eaten, and there were dozens of different kinds of kimchi.”
At the market, Yeh encountered what she describes as a “yeasted pancake,” served in both sweet and savory varieties.
“Imagine a doughnut that has been pan fried and squashed. It was really dense and chewy and hot and crispy on the outside, and sweet,” she explains. “One of the dishes that was mind-blowingly delicious was that they served this [pancake] with melted mozzarella. It tasted like making a grilled cheese with a doughnut.”
The food at the Olympic concession stands—which were marked as either “western” or “K-food”—also stood out to Yeh. Often, she’d have to wait for 20 minutes in line at one of these stands, and when she arrived at the register, she’d find that her only options were Pringles, tangerines, or a bunless hot dog. The bunless hot dog ended up becoming one of Yeh’s favorite snacks during her time at the games because it was often the only food option available at the arena (and in case you’re curious, she ate it with her hands).
The opening ceremony had the best concession food, according to Yeh. She once again encountered the pancakes, this time “filled with a brown sugary, almost melted praline-type filling,” and spicy rice cakes.
Once Yeh ventured outside of Olympic arenas, she was able to get a fuller picture of the Korean fast food available when the games aren’t in session. Yeh encountered many brands that would be familiar to the Western world, but in flavors that never make it to our shelves.
“When I travel, I love seeing the everyday food,” she says. “One of the most fascinating things was seeing pork buns and buckwheat crepes, and then going to Dominos and having bulgogi and roasted potato pizza…[or] going to Baskin Robbins where they had mochi ice cream with chocolate ganache in the center.”
She also tried the Snickers oat flavored candy bar, which she says reminded her of a “seven layer bar,” and the Dunkin Donuts rice flour doughnuts known as “chewisty,” which she says looks like a bunch of “donut holes stuck together in a ring.” But it was in the Olympic Village where Yeh found a “treasure chest of delicious flavor”: There were mayo flavored chips and “mayo shower potato sticks that tasted like crunchy sweet masses of mayonnaise”, coleslaw flavored popcorn, and what she can only describe as a snack that looks like chocolate Cheetos.
Obviously, she had no choice but to return to America with a “suitcase full of snacks.”
Though the location of the Olympic festivities often made it difficult to explore the area and find the best restaurants (Yeh says that Google Maps doesn’t work and there is no Uber or Lyft service), she did have several revelatory dining experiences—that didn’t involve snacks.
The first occurred after she trekked to the cross-country skiing course in “million mile winds,” and freezing cold weather, only to find an atmosphere starkly different from the ice skating arena where she had spent most of her time.
“We found pork buns and hot rice wine,” she recalls. “It was very simple but so delicious and in that moment, after walking over those mountains to get to the cross-country skiing, it was so delicious.”
At the cross-country skiing events, Yeh found herself surrounded by spectators in costumes, decked out in face paint, and partying to k-pop during the competitions. Meanwhile, at the ice skating rink, “people were sitting in their seats and being well behaved and clapping when they were supposed to.”
Another favorite dining experience took place at one of the only restaurants that Yeh remembers fondly, near her hotel, in an “Alps-inspired village” at the bottom of one of the ski mountains, where she says she ate “the ultimate” cold weather meal.
“This one restaurant had this amazing beef soup that was sweet and really oniony and the beef was cut really thin,” she says. “It was the most warming, delicious dish that we had. We would come inside and get these huge bowls of this soup with a big bowl of rice and big bowl of kimchi and tea.”
Now that Yeh is back home, she’s still giddy from the experience—not just from interviewing some of the best athletes on the planet, but also from tasting food she never would have had the opportunity to try otherwise. You might even say that for Yeh, this was her snacking Olympics, and she clearly won the gold.