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Why can't Korean food become mainstream?


thdad
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Like I wrote upthread kimchi in Los Angeles is in the national chains. So is bbq sauce.

Bibimbap has made it's way into non-Korean, non-Asian places.

Korean bbq is the new Japanese teriyaki around here. The Thai place down the street even serves it as the chef's special and the owners are Thai.

I suspect it's the heavy use of salt, pickels and packaging issues, it has to be something....

Maybe it's the Korean food in New York? Or it's it is not to your taste no matter where you've had it? Which is quite allright too.

In my neck of the woods I can point to lots of examples where it has entered the mainstream, national chains don't get more mainstream. I'm not claiming that it's to everyone's taste or will become as popular as Chinese, but it's not exactly floundering in insularity in Los Angeles. Anyway, they also do very well (thriving in fact) catering to their own. If the Koreans themselves are happy, it really doesn't matter.

It's easy to find Korean BBQ sauce in supermarkets on the east coast, and most health food stores and some supermarkets caryy kimchee. But I don't take that as much of a sign of general popularity. They also carry pig trotters in the supermarket in my home town and I would bet serious money that less than 5% of the local population will eat them. There's all kinds of stuff sold in your typical supermarket that are really niche products. How often do you buy 50 pound bags of rice marketed towards the Spanish speaking market? How many non-Jews buy Matzoh? You can also walk into the supermarket in my home town and buy Dettol from Jamaica. have you ever bought that? It's when McDonald's or TGIFriday's puts it on the menu that you know it has become cuisine for the general population. Seen anything that claims to be Korean on the menu of any major restaurant chain?

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I don't eat at McDonald's or TGIF.

Does McDonald's have anything Japanese or Thai on the menu?

In Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea they sure do. I bet in Thailand too. All the fast foods localize...

And in the US I'm pretty sure there's been a teriyaki mcchicken and thai chicken salad..

but I think all that belies the point, that's like saying that the Big Mac is german food

Edited by raji (log)
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=raji,Jul 30 2006, 11:16 PM]

but I think all that belies the point, that's like saying that the Big Mac is german food

Yes I agree with you and was a bit confused by the McDo and TGIF thing to begin with.

Edited by chefzadi (log)

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

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Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

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I love korean food, and have eaten it extensively here in London, in korea, and in most of Europe. In every town with any kind of population, there is a really genuine korean restaurant, because koreans can't live without their food. The thing is, it's completely unadaptable, which to me is no bad thing. It's on the whole unrefined and at its best that way-the best places to eat in Seoul are the ones where you sit on the floor. The problem is the inability to let food taste of itself, except in the many superb beef establishments, so that unless one is addicted to it it soon becomes extremely boring as everything tastes pretty much the same-sesame oil being at least as much a culprit as garlic and chilli powder, probably more so-and all that barbecued meat, the hallmark of entertaining, is far too prevalent-korean food excels much more in its stews.

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where you sit on the floor. The problem is the inability to let food taste of itself, except in the many superb beef establishments, so that unless one is addicted to it it soon becomes extremely boring as everything tastes pretty much the same-sesame oil being at least as much a culprit as garlic and chilli powder, probably more so-and all that barbecued meat, the hallmark of entertaining, is far too prevalent-korean food excels much more in its stews.

muichoi: You made a good observation here. There is too much seasoning in most Korean food to let you actually get a full taste of the underlying food. A good example is the way in which Koreans like to eat raw fish. The Japanese will age their fish and dip it in nothing more than soy sauce and some will even omit wasabi. Japanese sashimi focuses on the taste of the different types of fish.

The Koreans like their "hweh" (Korean sashimi) to be made from just caught fish because of the extra chewy texture. The preferred dipping sauce is a sweet and sour "cho-gochujang" sauce, whose major components are Korean gochujang (Korean style red chili paste), vinegar, and sugar. This sauce manages to mask out any inherent flavor present in most fishes so that the only sensation is of chewing something that tastes sweet, sour, and hot. In addition, many Koreans also like to eat the fish as part of a lettuce wrap that consists of the raw fish, dipping sauce, and a raw sliver of garlic. I am not saying that the Korean way of eating raw fish is not tasty -- it is actually very good in its own merits. However, my personal feeling is that the subtleties or nuances are lost somehow.

Korean cuisine is not all about raw bold flavors. From what I have read, the traditional imperial cuisine of the Korean royal court as well as upper level aristocratic cuisine used to be very mild and more subtle. The vegetarian cuisine of Buddhist temples in Korea are also good examples of lightly seasoned food that allows the ingredients to become the highlights.

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Korean cuisine is not all about raw bold flavors. From what I have read, the traditional imperial cuisine of the Korean royal court as well as upper level aristocratic cuisine used to be very mild and more subtle. The vegetarian cuisine of Buddhist temples in Korea are also good examples of lightly seasoned food that allows the ingredients to become the highlights.

Edited by jeanki (log)
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=raji,Jul 30 2006, 11:16 PM]

but I think all that belies the point, that's like saying that the Big Mac is german food

Yes I agree with you and was a bit confused by the McDo and TGIF thing to begin with.

When a culture starts to copy something adapted from another culture, it's a sign that something is becoming generally accepted. Like teriyakai, or crispy Chinese noodles on a McDonald's salad. Or the potstickers that were on the menu at TGIFridays's in 1986. When a food item hits large chain restaurants with limited menus, you can be pretty sure that culture's food has been adopted into the mainstream, or at least that culture's perceived flavors have been. Thai, Chinese and Japanese flavors, or pseudo-flavors, are widely present in school cafeteras and chain restaurants. Korean flavors, or at least flavors identified as Korean, are not. Society has not well accepted Korean food or flavors in a broad sense. I suspect it's becuase of the salt and perhaps strong flavors as noted by other recent posters. Korean food is the only food I can think of that serves large quantities of raw garlic.....

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=raji,Jul 30 2006, 11:16 PM]

but I think all that belies the point, that's like saying that the Big Mac is german food

Yes I agree with you and was a bit confused by the McDo and TGIF thing to begin with.

When a culture starts to copy something adapted from another culture, it's a sign that something is becoming generally accepted. Like teriyakai, or crispy Chinese noodles on a McDonald's salad. Or the potstickers that were on the menu at TGIFridays's in 1986. When a food item hits large chain restaurants with limited menus, you can be pretty sure that culture's food has been adopted into the mainstream, or at least that culture's perceived flavors have been. Thai, Chinese and Japanese flavors, or pseudo-flavors, are widely present in school cafeteras and chain restaurants. Korean flavors, or at least flavors identified as Korean, are not. Society has not well accepted Korean food or flavors in a broad sense. I suspect it's becuase of the salt and perhaps strong flavors as noted by other recent posters. Korean food is the only food I can think of that serves large quantities of raw garlic.....

Is your food culture represented by McDo and TGIF?

Very interesting.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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=raji,Jul 30 2006, 11:16 PM]

but I think all that belies the point, that's like saying that the Big Mac is german food

Yes I agree with you and was a bit confused by the McDo and TGIF thing to begin with.

When a culture starts to copy something adapted from another culture, it's a sign that something is becoming generally accepted. Like teriyakai, or crispy Chinese noodles on a McDonald's salad. Or the potstickers that were on the menu at TGIFridays's in 1986. When a food item hits large chain restaurants with limited menus, you can be pretty sure that culture's food has been adopted into the mainstream, or at least that culture's perceived flavors have been. Thai, Chinese and Japanese flavors, or pseudo-flavors, are widely present in school cafeteras and chain restaurants. Korean flavors, or at least flavors identified as Korean, are not. Society has not well accepted Korean food or flavors in a broad sense. I suspect it's becuase of the salt and perhaps strong flavors as noted by other recent posters. Korean food is the only food I can think of that serves large quantities of raw garlic.....

Is your food culture represented by McDo and TGIF?

Very interesting.

It is, if you're trying to identify what the general population eats. Social and culinary snobbery has no place if you want to know what people really eat. Nissin Cup a Noodle outsells in dollar volume every sit down proper ramen restaurant in the US combined and probably multiplied by ten. Bud Light far outsells every micro and import combined. Do you think everyone has dinner at Bouley every night? Places like McDonalds, TGIFridays, Denny's, Taco Bell and the like consume most of people's dining dollars in this countury. When Korean food hits those places, you will know it has been accepted.

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You can say that. But in a thread entitled "Why can't Korean food become mainstream?" and subtitled "Kimchi for the masses?", it seems kind of strange to take people to task for speaking in terms of the mainstream masses.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

The McD/TGIF/Taco Bell comment is relevant. It's Jeffrey Steingarten's "Calamari Index (CI)." For a full explanation, read the introduction of "It Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything." The idea is that tentacled sea creatures were the last thing that anyone in America wanted eat, despite the fact that it was accepted elsewhere in the world. That it appears as bar food across the nation today is a sign of how far it's come.

Why hasn't Korean food hit high on the CI yet? Why aren't Korean restaurants as widespread as Japanese or Chinese restaurants? Why don't we see bulgogi salad shakers at McDonald's? I think we've discussed at least some of those reasons:

1) There's no magic ingredient, like the aforementioned coconut milk for Thai cuisine.

2) Actual or perceived lack of crossover capability. Ignore Korean barbecue for a moment. Calamari is popular in the US primarily because it's breaded and fried. It's the sugar that helps the medicine go down. What kind of trojan horse might we put around Korean food? Deep fried kimchi? I'm not so sure about that.

3) The Korean community serves itself and that seems to be enough. If you watch Korean TV you'll see that restaurants advertise all the time. I even saw an ad for a Japanese-run sushi bar somewhere in Jersey. You won't see these ads on, say, the Six O'Clock news on Channel 7, or in New York Magazine. It's just the way it is.

4) There hasn't been a buildup of Korean culture in the US to lend the cuisine any coolness, though Korean pop culture is in vogue across all of Asia right now. In fact, it astounded me when the Korean pop singer Rain performed at Madison Square Garden, the only people I knew who attended were Chinese.

5) The Chinese aren't opening Korean restaurants en masse.

Why? Because it seems to me the majority of sushi restaurants, or even Japanese restaurants, appear to be run by the Chinese. Or Koreans. The Chinese will run Chinese restaurants ranging from elaborate and beautiful to the smallest take-out. They'll serve Chinese/Japanese, Chinese/Mexican, Vietnamese, Malaysian, just about any imaginable. Koreans run delis, Korean/Japanese and Korean/Chinese restaurants. Who's running the Korean restaurants? By and large, just the Koreans.

So when one wonders why there are more Thai restaurants than Korean restaurants, my totally un-PC, completely unresearched theory is that the majority of Thai restaurants are run by non-Thai. And they're probably Chinese. There's no Thai-town, no critical mass of Thai population to feed. There's a magic ingredient. Those running Thai restaurants have no choice but to cater to its surrounding clientele. The Chinese excel at that. The Koreans, obviously, not so much. This would also explain to my why there are so few Thai restaurants that are considered authentic.

I skimmed some census data (*) to see how many Thai live in the area.

The last census data (**) for New York shows that of its foreign-born population, only 7,400 report being born in Thailand. In the city's demographic profile (***) there are 86,473 Koreans. Thai aren't even broken out into their own category.

Note the following snippet from a NYT piece, which supports at least parts of my theory:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...756C0A9679C8B63

WHEN a Thai restaurant takes the trouble to call itself ''real,'' I take notice. Real Thai food is not easy to find in New York, after all. Just ask visiting Southern Californians, who gloat about the great Thai options around Los Angeles while turning up their noses at the choices here.

The West Coast's major advantage, of course, is that it has the numbers. Far more Thais live in Southern California than in New York, where the City Planning Office estimates the population at a mere 6,000. As a result, most Thai restaurants in New York must appeal to a largely American clientele, which leads many of them to compromise by adding sweetness and toning down the long, slow buildup of chili heat that is a Thai characteristic.

At Pam Real Thai Food, a sweet little restaurant that opened a couple of months ago in Clinton, the compromises are not always obvious. Timmy Panyasiri, son of the owner and chef, Pam Panyasiri, comes right out and says the restaurant tones down the heat for the supposedly tender American palate, yet my palate has reveled in the kitchen's sure-handed spicing.

Why aren't the Chinese, or anyone else for that matter, opening Korean restaurants? Well, you've got me.

I question the role of garlic in holding back the appeal of Korean cuisine. It's true that garlic is not culturally sexy. It's hard to picture Paris Hilton snarfing down wads of kimchi before going out on a night on the town. However, garlic has its ardent fans in the US. Note the popularity of Emeril Lagasse and Emeril Live. He is always throwing in "thirty or forty" cloves of garlic to the cheers of the audience.

I'll reiterate a point I made earlier. Eating lots of takeout Chinese did nothing to grow my interest in "real" Chinese cuisine. Therefore, is it a true loss if Korean food fails to hit high on the calamari index? To me, the answer is simple: no. I'll take it full strength. In fact, I'll take any cuisine full strength as long as I know what I'm getting myself into. Which leads me to what I think is the final and most important reason, which I mentioned in a previous post:

6) Lack of PR. That's not to diss on Emeril. I just googled "emeril korean" and got back quite a few search results. Not everyone on this board likes Korean cuisine, or NY K-town Korean cuisine, but it's clear to me that enough non-Koreans already like it in one form or another to prove it doesn't need to be dumbed down. Advertising, education, awareness. That is what will attract people.

Back to kalbi's crossover appeal, I noticed that Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has "BBQ beef ribs Korean style." In a restaurant started by bikers from Syracuse. Need I say more?

-----

* http://www.empire.state.ny.us/nysdc/

** http://www.empire.state.ny.us/nysdc/census...tryNYStotal.pdf

*** http://www.empire.state.ny.us/nysdc/census...moProfiles1.asp

Edited by larrylee (log)
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Chiming in (serial lurker)...

I think the idea of big portions being a detriment to the popularity of food is certainly NOT correct. If anything, America loves big portions. When I go home to visit my family in Michigan, I am pretty much blown away by the amount of food that comes on a single person's plate (and I am am not by any means a thin person, but more of a serial grazer). The idea of sitting down to huge meals, reasonably priced, is nothing new. That said, my home town, the third largest city in Michigan, just got its first sushi restaurant about 2 years ago. When I lived there, you had to drive 45 miles to Ann Arbor to find sushi. So, nothing shocking that Korean food "hasn't caught on"-- sushi hasn't really caught on either. Just last year Terry Bradshaw and Larry the Cable Guy were making "health code violation" jokes on TV about serving raw fish. America is NOT a place for sophisticated eating by and large; there are those among us who love diverse cuisine (Im preaching to the choir now, I'll shut up) but on the whole, the more things change the more things stay 'eh'.

That said, when I was working in the Empire State Building from 2000-2002, I ate about three times a week at my FAVORITE Korean place; Cho Dang Gol on 36th between 5th and 6th, where they make their own tofu. I had the tofu seafood stew (no idea what the Korean name is) everytime and I still crave it constantly. Cho Dang Gol ranks among my favorite places to eat. I don't find the food to salty, too expensive or seasoned strangely; I love pickels and chili, so I'm sold. Every once in a while, I splurge and get the scallion pancake to share with another person. I have never tried the dumplings, but I could die for dumplings, again, one of my favorite foods. I am a huge fan of meat, but I love this tofu dish. Life isn't an either or proposition, thankfully.

I believe that in order to bring Korean food to the masses, you have to do what everyone must do to bring anything to the masses; give it a hook and dumb it down. Sad, but true. I look at places like MONGOLIAN BBQ, where you can flavor your own proteins and veggies and they get cooked on a public grill-- that is what it needs. If you can turn Korean food into a cost effective, franchisable "experience", people will go. On the other hand, I live in NYC for a reason; so I can avoid dumbed down chains and eat really good, authentic foods (or at least those that aspire to authenticity, cuz who am I to judge). So, As long as KTown thrives, I'll go and try new things. Just give me my tofu stew! Yum.

Edited by twhalliii (log)
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when I was working in the Empire State Building from 2000-2002, I ate about three times a week at my FAVORITE Korean place; Cho Dang Gol on 36th between 5th and 6th, where they make their own tofu. I had the tofu seafood stew (no idea what the Korean name is) everytime and I still crave it constantly.

Hae Mool Soon Dubu. My greatest Korean comfort food next to dukkboki. Depending on your access to Korean ingredients, it's very easy to make if you miss it badly.

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One small correction: Cho Dang Gol is actually on 35 St.

Did I make the point before that Koreans started coming to the U.S. in significant numbers much later than Chinese and Japanese? I think that could be a factor, too, though it probably isn't relevant to the Thai vs. Korean question.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Although this is a NY-centric thread in light of its position in the forums I think it's relevant that the relationship between the type of restaurant owned and the cultural background of the owners tends to be different outside of major metro areas than it is in places like NYC.

Here in Syracuse - a small city of 150,000 with another 150,000 or so in the suburbs (many of whom never come into the city to dine) - there's little deviation from a traditional pattern. Thai restaurants owned by Thai people, Chinese places by ethnic Chinese, our one all Japanese restaurant owned by a Japanese woman... Korean restaurants owned by Koreans and Japanese-Korean owned by Koreans.

Korean cuisine may work its way into the menu and become appreciated bya few anglos at the Japanese-Korean place but mostly they serve a lot of sushi, teriyaki dishes etc. Our single solely Korean place is so small, so far under the radar and un-marketed that it's unlikley it will have much impact.

And I've had dishes like the seafood tofu stew mentioned upthread. But I like the balance of flavors in the Vietnamese version of such a dish so much better that I'll opt for that every time.

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And I've had dishes like the seafood tofu stew mentioned upthread.  But I like the balance of flavors in the Vietnamese version of such a dish so much better that I'll opt for that every time.

That's your preference, but I think it's an unfair comparison/they're completely different styles of flavor. For me, I adore both for what they are. It's like saying "I think bouillabaisse is better than cioppino." Feh. And I agree Cho Dang Gol's seafood tofu stew is da bomb.

Edited by phaelon56 (log)
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I question the role of garlic in holding back the appeal of Korean cuisine. It's true that garlic is not culturally sexy. It's hard to picture Paris Hilton snarfing down wads of kimchi before going out on a night on the town. However, garlic has its ardent fans in the US. Note the popularity of Emeril Lagasse and Emeril Live. He is always throwing in "thirty or forty" cloves of garlic to the cheers of the audience.

Obviously it isn't -just- the garlic. Chinese cuisine and Italian cuisine (and Italian-American) certainly has a lot of garlic. So does Greek. I think its the combination of the Garlic, Red Chili Paste, and all the fermented and fishy components that make up the flavor profile which most Americans "no like".

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

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And I've had dishes like the seafood tofu stew mentioned upthread.  But I like the balance of flavors in the Vietnamese version of such a dish so much better that I'll opt for that every time.

That's your preference, but I think it's an unfair comparison/they're completely different styles of flavor. For me, I adore both for what they are. It's like saying "I think bouillabaisse is better than cioppino." Feh. And I agree Cho Dang Gol's seafood tofu stew is da bomb.

No. Saying "I like.... such a dish so much better" IS stating my preference. I didn't claim that it's better - just that I like it better.

Stating preference and making claims of superiority that pretend to be objective are two entirely different matters. By chance I also do happen to like bouillabaisse better than cioppino but once again - that's personal preference.

And one of the ongoing mutliple speculations in this thread has to do with whether people's preference has anything to do with why Korean food has not become mainstream. In my case the answer is yes.

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And one of the ongoing mutliple speculations in this thread has to do with whether people's preference has anything to do with why Korean food has not become mainstream. In my case the answer is yes.

I agree with this. I lived in Korea for almost four years, which by no means makes me an expert. That being said, I had to force myself to eat kimchi for my first year until I began to actually like it. I buy it even now that I'm in Vietnam, although I must confess I prefer the Vietnamese version, which is slightly sweet and a lot less fishy.

Why did I force myself to eat it? I felt like I was missing out on the culture by not trying to embrace the (some would argue) most fundamental part of it. But many foreigners I knew in Korea avoided the majority of Korean foods, with perhaps the exception of dolsot bibimbap or galbi. Because they didn't like the taste of it. Despite the expense and difficulty of finding foreign food, many would go out of their way to avoid Korean food. We often went out for Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai food. Despite being surrounded by good, nutritious Korean food, they would opt for one or two Korean dishes and almost any other cuisine.

Were these people unadventurous? I don't think so...I mean, they're the sort of people who would up and move around the world to live and work in a different culture. But they didn't like the food.

My husband HATED Korean food. I cooked almost exclusively western style at home, except for the weekend, when he would cheerfully go out for grilled meat.

When my parents visited, they were happy to eat bibimbap and grilled meat. Now, my father grew up in Southeast Asia in the early sixties, so he's a pretty adventurous eater. Saturday night was "cooking night" at my house, when we would all work together on a special meal - curries with handground and toasted spices, handmade pork dumplings..I tell you this to assure you that they're not your average eaters. But I brought the kimchi out and they just about keeled over. They forbid me from opening it in the house again...Now this was pure, handmade kimchi, made by my boss's wife - aged six months and perfectly balanced (I thought).

They wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole, not even to try it.

Of course, Korean food is not just kimchi, but the fermented aspect is a strong part of the essence of the cuisine.

I also found that the first thing Koreans asked me in Korea was about the food. "Do you like kimchi? It's not too spicy for you?" I could never tell if they wanted me to love it or to hate it, to share the deliciousness; or to satisfy their preconceived notions of how foreigners perceive Korean food. (And let me tell you, what foreigners think of Korean food is MUCH discussed in Korea - there's always an article in the paper about how scientists in China have found that Kimchi prevents SARS; or that Kimchi sales have risen 30% in Japan over the past two years, etc. etc.)

I always said, "Yes, I like kimchi, but I didn't at first. Many foreigners don't like the fermented taste, as well as the spiciness." I had a friend from Idaho who almost would fly into a rage when presented with this question for the eighthundredth time, "I grew up eating Mexican food! KOREAN FOOD IS NOT SPICY!!!" he would usually vent as we walked away. I had a friend who was American-Indian - I remember him archly replying to someone who had unwittingly asked him the same question, "Sir. I am Indian. Please do not question my ability to eat spicy food."

What am I trying to say here....there's a kind of dichotomy from Koreans (in Korea) as well that kind of is like, "Our food is the best! Our food is the best! Kimchi is the healthiest thing you can eat!" and on the same hand "Foreigners hate our food because it's too spicy!" And then were kind of proud ...of both of those things? Does that make sense?

So maybe some of the old-school Korean places in the US haven't tried to market Korean food because they think it wouldn't be appreciated?

But then....

I can think of lots of Korean foods that I have cooked for people (mainly the stuff that didn't include kimchi) that they loved....pajeon, japchae, bibimbap. We took a friend out for samgyeobsal a couple of weeks ago, and she described the spread of panchan like "asian tapas". And loved it. But we were there to explain it all, and how to eat it...

So I don't know...

I mean, all I can say is that if you put a bowl of pho and a bowl of deonjangjigae in front of me, I'd go for the pho every single time. Hands down. That's my preference. And I've eaten a lot of food, across Asia - I think I'm a pretty well-rounded eater. If there are a lot of people like me...well then, that could be a reason why it's not as popular.

That being said (and I've rambled a lot here, I apologize) I think that if Korean food was presented well and explained properly, it has the potential to be very popular...with time. I mean, how long did sushi take to catch on?

Did that make any sense? Yikes...

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Obviously it isn't -just- the garlic. Chinese cuisine and Italian cuisine (and Italian-American) certainly has a lot of garlic. So does Greek. I think its the combination of the Garlic, Red Chili Paste, and all the fermented and fishy components that make up the flavor profile which most Americans "no like".

So maybe all the people who prefer Vietnamese to Korean can help me figure something out.

I don't eat a lot of Vietnamese food. I have nothing against it, I just don't eat it all that often. If I do, it's usually some combination of green papaya salad, summer rolls, pho, or bo luc lac and I enjoy them all. If I google for "vietnamese garlic fish chili" I get lots of results. Nuoc mam itself is nothing if not fermented and fishy. The first time I smelled it in the bottle I was overwhelmed. I've made my peace with it, the bottle has its own spot in our fridge, and it helps me make Charles Phan's Lemongrass-Grilled Rack of Lamb with Tamarind Sauce.

(http://www.howtocookeverything.tv/htce/Tak...ecipeId-32.html)

So if people dislike garlic, chili paste, and fermented fishy smells in Korean food, and if these same components are present in Vietnamese cuisine, then aren't we just talking about shades of grey? One difference that immediately comes to mind is the use of aromatics like cilantro, basil, lemongrass. Citrus.

So what's the story? Do the Vietnamese food fans here avoid the fermented aspects of Vietnamese food? Are these characteristics less pronounced than in Korean food? Is it that the fermented flavors are off-set by aromatics and citrus? What do you eat when you order Vietnamese?

Also, what is the spread of Vietnamese cuisine in America? A quick survey of restaurants through Citysearch shows that, on an average, Vietnamese restaurants tend to outnumber Korean restaurants. But is it being served to the mass market? Is McDonald's serving bahn mi? Green papaya salad? Is it at Red Lobster? TGI Friday's? Can I find Vietnamese at Pax? The take-out foods section of a grocery store? Personal opinions certainly factor heavily in one's acceptance of food, but I think we're losing the forest for the trees.

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Its the intensity of how much Koreans use those things, Larry. Vietnam and Thailand certainly have fish sauce in their cuisine, but its primarily an accent flavor, at least as how its used in the cuisine that is represented in the US. Too much fish sauce in a recipe is considered to be bad form in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Fermented stuff is also used as a condiment, not as a prime ingredient or food source.

Vietnamese is on the cusp of becoming about as popular as Thai food, at least in the metropolitan cities. I think the heavy use of fresh ingredients and salady-type main dishes have a lot of appeal with the health food and raw foodist crowd. Vietnamese food, while it uses chile peppers, uses them also in a far more tempered way than Thai does (except for the rare exception like Bun Bo Hue) and Thais, while they use a lot of fresh chile peppers as ingredients in soup and in curries, don't heavily rely on huge amounts of dry chile paste and red chile powder in the cuisine. Its part of the curry paste recipes, but its not the dominant flavor. Fresh chiles taste different. Koreans use fresh chiles too, but they eat them raw, and in larger quantities. You also don't see Thais or Vietnamese buying half gallon plastic jars of pre-peeled garlic to use in their homes on a weekly basis either. Sure they use garlic, but nowhere near as much as Koreans use.

There's a certain in your face, brutal intensity to Korean food that I guess for some reason Americans just don't like that those other cuisines don't come across as, for some of the reasons above.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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Also, what is the spread of Vietnamese cuisine in America? A quick survey of restaurants through Citysearch shows that, on an average, Vietnamese restaurants tend to outnumber Korean restaurants. But is it being served to the mass market? Is McDonald's serving bahn mi? Green papaya salad? Is it at Red Lobster? TGI Friday's? Can I find Vietnamese at Pax? The take-out foods section of a grocery store? Personal opinions certainly factor heavily in one's acceptance of food, but I think we're losing the forest for the trees.

Many local supermarkets carry Vietnamese summer rolls in their sushi section. You might also want to look at http://www.phohoa.com

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