Thursday, February 07, 2008

Korean Food: Keeping up with the Neighbors

A recent editorial article in the Chosun Ilbo English Edition asks the not so rhetorical question of how Korean cuisine can compete in the world.

A country's cuisine boosts exports of its agricultural products and improves itsnational image. That's why different countries are competing to spread their cuisine around the world according to a strategic game plan. Japan hasestablished a committee that oversees research into new variations of its cuisine, seeking to raise the number of global fans of Japanese food from 600 million now to 1.2 billion by 2010 by pursuing various globalization projects. Italy opened a culinary institute for foreigners and adopted a system of certifying and endorsing Italian restaurants around the world. Since the 1990s, Thailand has been pursuing a "Global Thai Restaurant" project that promotes adherence to preparation standards for Thai cuisine, trains foreigners as chefs and supports Thai restaurants abroad.

I did a search for information in English about universities, colleges or even private institutes that teach Korean cooking and all I could come up with was a few classes or special offerings on how to make Kimchi. I know that there are some fine culinary science departments in some universities out there. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything out there on studying the rich food culture and cuisine of Korea and that is a crying shame because, on a personal level, I know that I have discovered a great deal during my 12 years in Korea. I almost feel that I could open a Korean restaurant of my own except that I don’t have any formal training. What I know, I have learned from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and the flow of information from them seems never ending. What can be done to REALLY bring Korean cuisine to the rest of the world? More from the Chosun:

Only this year is the Korean government finally launching a program to investW78 billion (US$1=W943) by 2011 in an effort to develop Korean cuisine so it can rank among the top-rated cuisines around the world. It's time for the government, civilians and businesses to pool their efforts to spread Korean cuisine globally. If this does not happen, then Korean cuisine may disappear overseas without ever having the chance to take root.

Better late than never, I guess; Alrighty then, here’s my 2-cents on the subject and some of it is emphasized in the article. The government should use some of that money they plan to spend to do the following:
  1. Open up a National Culinary Institute and make the faculty come from some of the best known restaurants from all over Korea. Have the courses all taught in English (yes, I see the problem here but keep reading anyway)
  2. Bring over some willing participants from all over the world (and those with English ability from within Korea) to engage in some serious study on the subject. Scholarship potential chefs from all over the world to come and study so they can bring ‘real’ Korean cuisine to the rest of the world.
  3. Create an award system for some of the most common Korean seasonings and allow outstanding companies to have ‘excellence branding’ in much the same way that Thai Government has done by labeling certain products with awards for excellence.
  4. Create a government fund that will subsidize the creation of ‘real’ Korean restaurants and restaurant chains around the world. Offer this funding ONLY to those who have graduated with honors from the National Culinary Institute.

Korean food is delicious and healthful and deserves to surpass the popularity of other Asian cuisines. I would agree that more aggressive action by the Korean government and private enterprise is needed. A lot of trash gets talked about Korea on the Korean Blogosphere but the one thing about Korea that I have rarely heard bad-mouthing is the subject of Korean food. As for me, if I had to choose between exporting Korean cars or Korean food…keep the Ssangyong, pass the ssamjang.


Jon Allen said...

Some interesting ideas there.

However, whilst it is a great idea to try to enforce "Real korean food" ideas on the rest of the world a few examples will show that localising foods to country might get better results.

For example the most popular indian dish in England is "Chicken Tikka Masala" a dish that was invented by Indian cooks in England specifically for the British desire for meat with gravy. That dish does not exist in India!

So maybe more Fusion dishes are the way to go!

Bibimbap with gravy anyone?

nosaj100 said...

Bibimbap with gravy? That sounds like a Mississippi inspired dish or at least if we can figure out a way to fry the whole thing and then cover it with gravy, it would be a hit!

I would love for Korean food to be more internationally recognized. We had to drive 3 hours to Memphis for a bowl of 김치찌개 when we were in Mississippi and this was the only Korean restaurant listed online.

Kim said...

I live in a city with a fairly large Korean populace, yet we have 1 korean resturant and it is fair. We have many little grocery stores that are also fair. I keep reading online about the emergence of Korean cuisine soon to be "coming to a city near you". I am both excited and cautious.I love to share Korean food with people I know and educate them on the various kinds and even eating instructions. But I know just like with Japanese, Indian, Spanish/Mexican and many others, the "Americaninzing" may hinder the true cuisine to shine.

I remember the time I had "real" Chinese food, or when I had "real" Thai food. It changed my thought on those countries. I hope the same happens with Korean food. It may have a positive effect on the Korean people and could go far with helping with the predjudices and such.

Bring me an all night Bibimbap shop and I'll move in.

Fencerider said...

THanks for the comments everyone...i get so few here. As for the 'americanizing' of Korean food, that has already been done and fusion food really IS the way to go for the untrained palate. However, the demand for 'authentic' food IS out the states as well as elsewhere. I just think it would great to see authentic dishes and preparation methods used as much as possible besides it would give VANK something else to watch out for.

I recall a few experiences with Korean food in the states and elsewhere and none of them were what I would call authentic....the closest I got was a place in Alexandria, Virginia (near some mall i recall from 2000) and it was ok....another place in my hometown served Naengmyeon from one of those instant packages and it was overcooked and quite soggy...I sent it back....Kimchi you usually buy at Kroger is tasteless but i guess that's because my palate is used to the real thing. If your retaurant is going to be sucessful you have to be able to appeal to a wider audience than just local Koreans and former expat English teachers.
At any rate, A National Culinary Institute with classes for foreigners would be a way to get it out there.