U.S. Foodservice, one of the largest foodservice distributors in the U.S., conducted a survey asking chefs and consumers for their top trends for pork and poultry dishes.
Here are the top 10, and I’ll show you examples of centuries-old Korean foods — as well as a few modern Korean twists) have the opportunity to own most of the trends on this list.
1. Barbecue goes ethnic
Americans are stepping out of their regional barbecue standbys and broadening their tastes. As a result, they’re looking more to Latin America and Korea for the next taste sensation.
The survey report noted:
… Los Angeles food trucks like Kogi Korean BBQ-to-Go have set off a craze for “Korean tacos” and other fusion fare, such as Marination Mobile’s Spicy Pork, a version of Korean bulgogi barbecue.
2. Grilled foods
Grilled meats are considered more healthful than deep-fried meats, and consumers want a choice, according to the report. The recently introduced KFC grilled chicken is an example of the market responding to this consumer demand. Customers enjoy watching the chefs grill their food cooked right in front of them.
Patrons also enjoy restaurants that allow them to grill their meat themselves, the survey found. A number of Korean restaurants across the U.S. offer this option, at least in major Korean communities such as Los Angeles and New York.
Given this trend, any Korean restaurant in the U.S. that seriously stakes its reputation on the quality of the marinade might want to consider this option.
3. Breakfast is not just for morning
Some restaurants are offering breakfast food items throughout the day, rather than just in the morning, according to the survey. In Korea, where specialty breakfast foods are not the norm, the popularity of fruit smoothies, egg toast and Belgian waffles is skyrocketing, at least in larger cities such as Seoul and Busan (f.k.a. Pusan). Korean brown sugar pancakes (호떡 hoddeok) and Korean doughnut holes (풀빵 pul bbang) could be marketed in the U.S. as breakfast or brunch items and go head to head with pancakes and French toast.
4. Small bites
Korean 반찬 banchan is synonymous with the concept of tapas or small appetizer bites. Korean lettuce wraps (쌈 ssam) are grilled meat on a lettuce leaf, touched with a little 쌈장 ssamjang, which is a mix of 된장 doenjang, similar to Japanese miso and 고추장 gochujang). Ssam is a one- to two-bite wonder of low-carb deliciousness.
On the high end, the Korean royal nine-appetizer tray (구절판 gujeolpan) could capitalize on this trend, if something could be done to get the royal price tag down.
When Koreans imported the sandwich, the results were a little strange to Western tastes. For example, Dan Grey of Seoul Eats found a recipe on the back of a corn flakes cereal box for a breakfast sandwich smeared with peanut butter, layered with bananas and almond cereal and drizzled with honey drizzled between two pieces of bread. After some contemplation, I’d say it sounds pretty good.
Egg toast, which is basically a Korean version of Japanese cabbage pancake (okonomiyaki) between two slices of bread and dusted with brown sugar, is an example of this perplexing Korean trend of sweetening up a sandwich that would otherwise be savory.
These will not work in America, unless you’re targeting moms trying to find a way to make their children eat their corn flakes and cabbage.
However, importing Korean barbecue and kimchi in a Western sandwich can help timid tastes develop a love of Korean flavors. Here are a few examples that could do very well in the States.
- Korean Sloppy Joes
- Korean Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwich
- Korean Grilled Flat-iron Steak Sandwich
- Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich
6. Going whole hog on the whole hog
The survey report noted:
Chefs and customers alike are becoming increasingly comfortable with cuts of pork that were considered untouchable and in some cases, downright controversial just a few years ago.
Korean dishes such as spicy pig’s feet (족발 jokbal) and uncured pork belly (삼겹살 samgyeopsal) can get America’s attention, when cooked and promoted properly. Jeju’s famous Black Pig Pork is a product worth promoting. If it’s promoted correctly, it could have the same status as Kobe Beef.
7. Sausage goes high brow
Koreans do have a few varieties such as blood and noodle sausage (순대 sundae). But it seems in recent years, Koreans prefer to use the thinner sausages as a substitute stylus for their iPhones.
8. Kids’ meals grow up
Children are getting smaller portions of the same foods adults eat, the survey noted. Koreans have been doing this for thousands of years, except for breast milk and mashing up food for smaller mouths. Koreans don’t have a concept of baby food.
9. Citrus and fruit
Koreans have a variety of fruits just starting to get noticed in America, such as Korean pears (called the Asian pear or apple-pear), persimmons, 오미자 omija, 대추 daechu (a.k.a. jujube or Chinese date) and 유자 yuja (commonly known by the Japanese name yuzu). Americans are starting to find more yuja-flavored soy sauces and salad dressings on regular grocery store shelves.
10. Chicken salad re-imagined
Operators are rethinking familiar chicken entrée salads with smoky-hot chipotle, piquant fruit notes or new Asian accents.
The aforementioned yuzu-spiked salad dressings mixed with grilled chicken, lettuce, cucumber and carrot or spicy grilled chicken (닭갈비 dakkalbi) combined with mixed greens, green onion and shredded carrot are just two Korean inspired chicken salad options that Korean restaurateurs could try if they want to expand their menus to non-Korean clientele.
The point is, you can’t demand that the consumer like what you want them to like. Notice what types of Korean cuisine are conspicuously missing: most royal court cuisine, the common spicy rice cake dish 떡보끼 ddeokbokki and makgeolli.
This list gives 10 concrete examples of what American consumers are looking for in restaurant cuisine. Ask them what they like about their own food and Korean food, then find creative ways of giving it to them.
As outlined above, a number of Korean foods already cater to consumer desires listed in the survey. The question is, will Korean chefs, restaurateurs and the Korean government step up to the plate and innovate, or will they chase windmills and continue to try to force us to like what they like? [Read about the Korean government’s effort to market rice internationally via ddeokbokki.]