Top 12 Dishes That We Like?

From the JoongAng Daily

A few days ago I posted an article of an event at the Institute of Traditional Korean Food.  They had a layout of dishes that supposedly foreigners liked best.  I wondered aloud what the dishes were and how they came about it.

The JoongAng Daily came to the rescue.  So it looks like a survey was sent to overseas restaurants.  These were the top twelve.  Many no-brainers on the list, but their placement seems odd.  Hobakjuk is at #3.  I like pumpkin porridge, but I didn’t know it was popular.  The grilled meat dishes are close to the bottom.  And hobak tteok??  I don’t think I’ve even seen it much in Korea.  Is it even in western countries?

At least now we have the list.  Controversial, I’d say.  Reactions?


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17 thoughts on “Top 12 Dishes That We Like?”

  1. I think that Korean barbeque is the best export they have next to cell phones. It’s a no brainer. Also any kind of Tteokk is difficult for the uneducated American palate. We usually like our desserts much sweeter and more tender or flaky. The chewiness can be challenging.

  2. Based on my experiences introducing non-Koreans to Korean food in the US (SF Bay Area), the top five would be something like bibimbap, bulgogi, kalbi, spicy pork, and sundubu jjigae. Next would be kimchi, pajeon, gamja jjorim, japchae, and kimbap, not necessarily in that order. Obviously, we don’t have the variety of Korean food here that you have there, but those dishes are all pretty approachable. Kimchi and kimbap are probably the most controversial of the lot, but there’s mild kimchi for people like me…(I love spicy food, but I only like kimchi if it’s been cooked at least a bit or it’s very new.)

    I haven’t visited Korea yet, but perhaps that list is “Dishes We Would Like Foreigners to Like.”

    I’d love to try hobak tteok, though!

  3. Now keep in mind this is not a list of items that foreigners like best (as you say in your blog), this is a list of items that Korean resto owners feel best suits the foreign palate (as the report states). There is a big difference there.

    So first I would like to know what constitutes a foreigner. This is not an exercise in asshattery, but I wonder where Korean-born adoptees fit in to this classification, for example?

    Asking the resto owners is a bad idea. Better would be to search YouTube or Google or look at the most viewed recipes at to see what people who speak English are looking to cook and eat.

    By that standard this list is not too bad. Look at the top recipes from maangchi and naengmyun is out, so is pajeon, hobakjuk, and kimbap. But jja jangmyun is in, so is ddukbokkie and kimchi-bokkeumbap.

    Kimchi is number one.

  4. Hmm, yes, reading the original article, it says “the agencies surveyed Korean restaurants located in Western countries such as the United States to come up with the finalists.” I’ve never seen pumpkin soup on the menu in the US (only at one barbecue buffet, and then from a mix, I think), nor tteok of any kind, and several of the other items are not all that common (even kimbap, which you usually need to get a Korean grocery store or deli). Strange.

  5. Ah, one last comment. Actually, the original article says they asked overseas Korean restaurant owners for “the 12 dishes that best represent Korea.”*

    Oh, well then. Now it makes sense! The story has just mutated. 🙂

    Now if only I could easily order the 12 dishes that best represent Korea … I’ll just have to come visit! 😉

    • Clarissa: “Now if only I could easily order the 12 dishes that best represent Korea”

      You know, I should get into the habit of double reading articles before posting them and going off on rants. I wonder if those dishes best represent Korea. I think Boribap 보리밥 represents the Korean character more than Bibimbap. It’s rustic. It has more flavor. And to pander to the “well-being” crowd, it’s healthier.

      As for kimbap, I thought it would be a very easy food to acquire a taste for. It was one of the first Korean foods I had while working a contract in Jacksonville, FL in 2002. Our boss, who had been a missionary in Korea, brought it to an office party, and we called it “beef sushi.” Most everyone loved it.

      I didn’t mention in my rant that the health issue was brought up again. It’s an obsession with the promoters. I agree that much of the food is healthy, especially when compared to American fast food. And when you get down to it, I have found it very hard to convince Koreans one-on-one that we don’t eat hamburgers and pizza every day–that our traditional foods are indeed healthy. Yet the health attraction of Korean food goes only so far. Sushi was marketed as being healthy, but that’s not the primary reason people go out for sushi. They like the flavor, the colors, the novelty of eating raw fish. Healthiness is an extra bonus but not the #1 reason to eat something. And marketing Korean food primarily on its health benefits is risky. As soon as any data comes out connecting any Korean food to Korea’s extremely high stomach cancer rate–the house of cards collapses.

  6. Like the commenter above I think we have to consider the source here, and given that we’re talking about a Korean newspaper sending out surveys to Korean restaurants abroad, I think it’s safe to say the list is diluted.
    That said, we all love Korean food (I hope) and a Top 10 of any kind of fun to debate, even if it’s Koreans guessing what is suitable to the foreign palate. Bibimbap is my favorite Korean food in terms of taste, price and access. Don’t like hobak tteok at all. Too greasy.

    • Tasshin: “Like the commenter above I think we have to consider the source here, and given that we’re talking about a Korean newspaper sending out surveys to Korean restaurants abroad, I think it’s safe to say the list is diluted.”

      I agree. FYI, the Institute of Traditional Korean Food conducted the survey, and the government has given them a dumptruck load full of money to pull these stunts. I think what bothers me is that other people and I have been pushing these groups to do market research to find out what westerners like (oh, and W42, westerners with Korean blood are only considered foreigners if they commit crimes, we have discovered in the media), but it looks like they again are trying to dictate to westerners what their tastes are and what they should like, along with that arrogant presumption that all Americans are obese and eat McDonald’s three times a day.

      “Bibimbap is my favorite Korean food in terms of taste, price and access. Don’t like hobak tteok at all. Too greasy.”

      Where are you getting hobak ddeok? I only see it at ddeok houses and the occasional street food stand. It looks like the fruit cake of Korea, considering almost no one seems to buy a chunk off that giant loaf. I’ve had it a few times, and it’s okay. Like with most ddeok, I don’t like food that I have to chew more than a stick of gum. Now, Chapsal Ddeok is another story–erotically soft and inviting and great with coffee.

  7. I think this list was what Korean restaurant owners wish their mi-gook customers would eat! I get requests from time to time on my YouTube channel to make Korean or Korean-style foods and it’s relatively easy to tell whether the request is coming from a Korean or non-Korean.
    Non-Koreans have asked me to do videos making basic Korean stuff like Dakkdoritang, Tteokbokki, Kimchi jjigae, Bulgogi, Korean Fried Chicken, etc. or asking me where they can buy makgeolli.

    Korean YouTubers, OTOH, are asking me to do Royal Court demos–nearly impossible in the typical 10 minute limit of YouTube. I’ve never been asked to make anything with hobak, ever!

  8. You know, part of the problem is that this article is so weirdly written.

    So they asked K restos in the west “which Korean dishes are best-suited to please foreign palates,” which was research for “a list of the 12 dishes that best represent Korea.”

    Which, if true, is using research from one question to answer a different one.

    Zenkimchi I hate to rain on your parade, but, uh, there are a shitload of hamburger joints and pizza places in the USA, and, um, some people eat at them EVERY DAY. I’ve seen it with me own peepers. It’s a big problem here. Fat people, I mean. Big. Massive problem. they made movies about it and it’s on the TV all the time, what to do with these fat people?

    In fact, President Obama planted a garden at the White House and just last night there was a 2 hour Iron Chef using ingredients from his garden. Michelle came on the show to encourage everyone to eat more healthily.

    So the Koreans are on point with that one, at least, and they are right to push it. The only fat people in Korea are the ones eating the hamburgers.

    What the K gov’t needs to do is stop fooling around with renaming foods and compiling lists and sweating whether Westerners can handle Korean food.

    They are handling it already. What the gov’t needs to do is encourage the people who are already eating and cooking it, and those people will invite their friends out to eat or cook for them, and pretty soon you have a lot of people who like Korean food.

  9. Not raining at all. Inside Korea itself, the perception is that everyone–not some–eat pizza and hamburgers and that Americans have no traditional foods or no healthy foods, and that’s why they don’t eat them. The “well-being” of food is a strong marketing tool in Korea. Yet give average Americans the choice between a healthy food and a food that tastes good, they’ll choose the latter. That’s why there is an obesity epidemic. Korean food is both healthy and tasty. Marketing the health benefits at the expense of taste has never worked well in America. It’s, in fact, backfired. Look at the successful marketing of Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s. The ’70s and ’80s health food craze left people with negative perceptions of health food, with wheat germ, granola, pitiful salads and god awful tofu concoctions. It’s going to be a long time before marketing a food on its health benefits alone will capture Americans beyond a minority of health fanatics. I think pushing Korean food for its taste, excitement and the warm feelings it can give would be more successful than banking everything on a campaign that will only appeal to the west coast granola crowd. The added benefit is that people will find that healthy food does not have to be bland and dry. It can satiate. And then support the taste campaign with the health campaign.

    Right now, the power ajosshis are approaching the American market like they do the Korean market based on faulty stereotypes–that healthy food doesn’t already exist in America. Americans don’t eat healthy food because the stuff marketed as so tastes bad. They won’t fall for the same spiel twice.

  10. You’re exactly right.

    You should be blogging about this and writing this in the newspaper (you have a column, right?) instead of in the 13th comment! No one is reading but you and me!

    Hey I know I bust your balls on this blog sometimes but I’m not a bad guy, I’m just quitting smoking.

    If you come to New York city, look me up – you have my email – and I’ll “buy you a beer” in person. We have some mutual friends.

  11. Believe me, I’m trying to . I think that’s one of the reasons for my ouster from one of the magazines.

    Bust my balls. It keeps me on my toes. Especially if it helps with quitting smoking. 🙂


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