I wrote a piece reviewing the year in Korean food for the Herald. Here’s the intro:
This was the year that Korean food was going to make its debutante debut. Restaurant industry seers Baum & Whiteman predicted Korean food would hit it big in 2009. It did make some headway, but not in the way the public and private Korean food promoters on the peninsula predicted.
Despite wasting money in changing the names of traditional snack foods, full-page ads in American newspapers and promoting the expensive, pretentious side of Korean food in the middle of a worldwide recession, these efforts created more wrinkled eyebrows than wows. Korean food did pick up in popularity with street food galbi tacos, good ol’ barbecue and the humble makgeolli. The words “topokki” and “Ricetard” joined “well-being” as Korea’s most cringe-inducing culinary vocabulary disasters.
Ethnic restaurants multiplied while Korean cuisine modernized. The roti bun trend faded as cupcake cafes increased. Brunch was still the price gouge of choice. Thanks to Omer Yilmaz, Turkish kebabs spread from Itaewon to Jongno to suburban department stores. The boneless samgyetang entered the repertoire of fine dining through the efforts of chefs
Edward Kwon, Ciaran Hickey and Sungsoo “Eddie” Ahn. Chef Kwon put on his Gordon Ramsey toque to judge the Korean reality TV chef competition “Yes Chef” while local expat favorite “Star Chef” Kim Hu-nam made appearances on Korean and American televisions.
The H1N1 flu panic brought more sanitation practices to the food industry — even though temporarily — such as hand sanitizers for customers and layers of plastic over baked goods. The flu scare didn’t prevent first lady Kim Yoon-Ok from cooking pajeon for Korean War veterans in New York. It didn’t scare the professional gagmen of “Infinite Challenge” from promoting bibimbap in The New York Times with a great picture that unfortunately associated the dish with funerals through more awkward English.
Industry gurus still predict the ongoing popularization of Korean food through 2010, though it’s showing signs of fading on the American west coast. Expect to see international chefs playing with new forms of kimchi. Korean tacos will appear on chain restaurant menus. Gochujang will be the cool new condiment while Korean fried chicken hits middle America.
On Korean shores, cupcakes will become more fashionable, possibly inspiring an increase in home baking. Watch for these keywords in the coming year: Indian, gorgonzola, kebabs, Uzbek, macarons, ceviche, cocktails, culinary tourism, burgers, pastrami and tacos.
For the Top Ten Korean Food Events of 2009, click here.
What were the big Korean food events in your opinion?