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Why can't Korean food become mainstream?


thdad
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in los angeles, the one thing that i really crave for, but cannot get, is a cheap bulgogi burger.

Melonpan, 'splain? Is this a burger made up of ground ribeye marinaded in Korean marinade, grilled? Or just regular burger meat marinaded that way? What kind of condiments are on it?

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Here's probably the first evidence of some "mainstreaming" of Korean Food:

http://eater.curbed.com/archives/2006/08/dish_exclusive.php

The new Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC, opening "soft" this weekend and soon to the public.

A ssam is essentially the Korean equivalent to a Burrito. The one currently served on Momofuku's lunch menu is "Berkshire pork, rice, edamame, onions, pickled shiitakes, and kimchi in a wrap"

There's more coverage about this on a June 16 article in the Aspen Times.

http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20060616...160034/-1/rss01

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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  • 2 weeks later...
I think that the mainstreaming (or dumbing down) of Korean cuisine and the further refining of authentic Korean cuisine are two efforts that can go together.  For example, the average Joe can have a toned down version of bibimbap at a fast casual type of outlet at the local mall while a diner who has some experience with Korean food can have an authentic Chonju-style bibimbap at a tonier Korean restaurant in Manhattan.  Chinese is popular in the United States because it caters to every taste -- from the gloppy stuff served at take out joints to the refined regional dishes served at better Chinese restaurants.  At the end of the day, everyone has experienced Chinese food in one form or another.

The popularization of Korean flavor profiles through watered down sauces, mixes, and marinades is one way of getting the average diner become aware of Korean food and ingredients.  Once he or she gets a taste of Korean food through mainstream versions of Korean food at the local mall (for example) wouldn't the next step be in trying the real thing at a real Korean restaurant?

What about the status of authentic Korean restaurants in New York?  The quality of Korean restaurants in Manhattan (even including Woo lae oak in Soho) in terms of quality of food, service, and interior cannot compare with the product offered by the best restaurants in Seoul.  In general, they are not as up to date in terms of food/menu and service with the rapidly changing counterparts in Korea.  Many native Koreans who have eaten at Korean restaurants in the United States have commented on the fact that the seasoning is too heavy or 'traditional' -- in other words, too salty and heavy.  Native Koreans now generally prefer food with a lighter touch in terms of seasoning, which is in stark contrast to the heavily seasoned food you normally encounter at Korean restaurants in New York.  In other words, Korean restaurants in the United States are stuck in the 80's~90's whereas the restaurants in Seoul have continously evolved through the years to accommodate the changing tastes.

I agree with you in that Korean restaurants in the US are stuck in a time rut, but when you think about it, they're servicing mostly immigrants or 2nd generation Korean Americans, with the occassional non-Korean. Most of these people are used to that style. However, living right by NY's Koreatown (in Herald Sq) and being a Korean myself, I've seen some turnover in the older style restaurants and newer, more "up with the times" restaurants popping up. The former Kumryong is now Shanghai Mong, while the menu changed slightly, the decor is more up to date. Shilla and Don's Bogam, new restaurants in the past year are more current in their menu, style of cooking and decor. However, I haven't been to Korea in 6 years, so I can't say that I can compare to what's current in Korea.

ginac0lada

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The former Kumryong is now Shanghai Mong, while the menu changed slightly, the decor is more up to date. Shilla and Don's Bogam, new restaurants in the past year are more current in their menu, style of cooking and decor. However, I haven't been to Korea in 6 years, so I can't say that I can compare to what's current in Korea.

Shanghai Mong is definitely a visual departure from its neighbors. Have you had the jajangmyun there, and if so, what did you think of it? I thought it was pretty decent, though I'm no afficionado. I like the pricing an portions of the dish, which are just right for lunch. Now if I can just eat it without getting the sauce all over my shirt...

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Shanghai Mong is definitely a visual departure from its neighbors. Have you had the jajangmyun there, and if so, what did you think of it? I thought it was pretty decent, though I'm no afficionado. I like the pricing an portions of the dish, which are just right for lunch. Now if I can just eat it without getting the sauce all over my shirt...

Shanghai mong is the only decent place that I've seen in NY for jjajangmyun, although its not the best I've had, its pretty good. Try their jjamjamyun if you get a chance, the half jjampong/half jjajangmyun, if you want to mix it up a bit. They have ssam there too (going back to our momofuku discussion), and its not bad!

Yeah, don't forget to wear a black shirt..

For a good lunch special, I just discovered Don's Bogam (on the Madison Ave side of 32nd). Really good bbq/stew combos. My favorite is the kalbi/kimchi jjigae combo, i think its only $10. Do you know of any other good lunch specials?

ginac0lada

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Here's probably the first evidence of some "mainstreaming" of Korean Food:

http://eater.curbed.com/archives/2006/08/dish_exclusive.php

The new Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC, opening "soft" this weekend and soon to the public.

A ssam is essentially the Korean equivalent to a Burrito. The one currently served on Momofuku's lunch menu is "Berkshire pork, rice, edamame, onions, pickled shiitakes, and kimchi in a wrap"

And herein lies the rub; there is no such thing as a Korean burrito, at least the way David Chang has conceived it. He's riffed very tangentially on the tradition of wrapping Korean BBQ pieces of meat with rice and dwengjang paste (fermented soybean paste) inside a large lettuce leaf. The leaf is folded into a bite-sized bundle and eaten as a little 'burrito' if you can even call it that. The lettuce itself is called "ssam".

But as in the Aspen article you quoted, David Chang has no hesitation in adapting Asian prep ideas and creating what he calls American dishes like his new style ramen, even if they have virtually no similarity to the original dish it riffed off of. Whether this is innovative or disturbing is a matter of debate. I guess it's a metaphor for all cultural assimilation debates. Are you selling out/diluting the original into oblivion by adapting a dish for mainstream palates, or are you creating something wholly new, unique that still bridges the gaps?

Edited by jeanki (log)
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Jeanki,

Thanks for pointing that out. When I first heard of Ssam Bar I wondered, "he's making a whole restaurant out of wrapping things in lettuce leaves?" Then I was equally bewildered when I saw some pictures of the food in the form of burritos.

Then again, I like bulgogi sandwiches with kimchi, though it's been years since I've had one.

I guess it's a metaphor for all cultural assimilation debates.  Are you selling out/diluting the original into oblivion by adapting a dish for mainstream palates, or are you creating something wholly new, unique that still bridges the gaps?

Agreed.

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Are you selling out/diluting the original into oblivion by adapting a dish for mainstream palates, or are you creating something wholly new, unique that still bridges the gaps?

The latter, for sure. Notice that David Chang had never claimed to be on a mission to convert people to Korean food (at least I don't think so). The dishes are his own - and Joaquin's, his partner - and they just happen to use Korean ingredients from time to time. Hell, momofuku isn't even a Korean word.

My personal issues with MSG aside (see ssam thread), I think it's totally impressive that someone can open a tiny spot and make anything he fancies. To categorize the food is useless; it's not Korean and it's not American and to throw it into pan-Asian is also wrong. It just is what it is. Very few chefs can pull that off, especially in New York right now.

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All the fast food joints in Korea have a version of bulgogi burger on their menus. McDonalds has one (made with pork patty...), Burger King used to have one, Lotteria has one (and even had a version that used a compressed 'rice' bun), even KFC has one. Is it popular in Korea? Yes. Is it a way to propagate Korean flavor profiles? Maybe.

Jeanki,

Thanks for pointing that out. When I first heard of Ssam Bar I wondered, "he's making a whole restaurant out of wrapping things in lettuce leaves?" Then I was equally bewildered when I saw some pictures of the food in the form of burritos.

Then again, I like bulgogi sandwiches with kimchi, though it's been years since I've had one.

I guess it's a metaphor for all cultural assimilation debates.  Are you selling out/diluting the original into oblivion by adapting a dish for mainstream palates, or are you creating something wholly new, unique that still bridges the gaps?

Agreed.

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  • 1 year later...

I wonder the exact same question as the creator of the post. I absolutely adore Korean cuisine but for some reason, it's not that popular over here too. I mean, sure, alot of other Asians eat it now that Korean pop culture is so big, but it's not really embraced by the population here in Australia as a whole.

Why why why?!

Maybe it's the overload of redness? It does look a bit dangerous...and my cousin isn't very fond of it...

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

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