American’s are always looking for the next big delicacy to become obsessed with and enjoy. In recent years, the growth and influences of Korean cuisine in the common restaurant industry has become a prominent part of American culture. From the growing chains of Korean BBQ to the injection of kimchi, bulgogi, Korean-inspired burgers, and even tacos show a rapid growing trend in the norm of the fast food and food truck industries. Slowly but surely Korean-American infused dishes are becoming a staple in the ever-growing American diets.
By this point in American food history, it is not surprising to see more Korean restaurants popping up in major cities and some suburbs. It seems that the taste of the far east is just as enticing as its, almost cliched, brethren. Arguably one could say that the start of the injection of new flavors in daily dining can be contributed to Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
By 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that LA’s K-town houses one of the nation’s largest Korean-born populations with a massive 250,000 residents. Koreatown is also home to over 60 different restaurants with over 60 different authentic dishes on the menu. From the night-ending dishes like the milky soup-like soulongtang, Korean dumpling mandu, to the classic kimchi, K-town was and is still the spiritually mecca for authentic cuisine in America. It was not until recent years that the other states and major cities started to take a large interest in the intricate flavors of each dish.
Some may argue that LA’s Koreatown is too traditional for the masses. Not the hippest and trendiest of its surrounding competitors, many of the restaurants of Koreatown draw heavy cultural influences and little, to no, American-fusions to attract the attention of the average American teen or food-blogger looking for the next food sensation.
It was not until chef Roy Choi brought a new, younger one to take to LA’s homely area. The well-known food truck owner partnered with Sydell Group to reinvent the stagnant Wilshire Hotel Plaza into The Line. At the forefront of this new development is an easy accessible restaurant named, POT. Bringing in a new modern take on traditional customs, Choi’s and Sydell’s vision has become a staple in the west coast food community. Bringing the lively, young crowd from all over to partake in some of the critically-acclaimed gaennip and doenjang. It only helps the media-appeal of Korean cuisine for its location in the heart of Koreatown and its mix of hip with traditional, varied, and comforting flavors.
As time quickly progressed, more major cities started becoming recognized for new restaurants that took in the traditional cuisine, but added an American twist. One of the most recent and highly buzzed openings was former Top Chef contestant Beverly Kim’s Parachute restaurant in Chicago. An establishment that has already won restaurant of the year and is most well-known for their mouth-watering bokkeumbap.
New York, and parts of New Jersey, have also been a staple for Korean-cuisine. Although mostly under the nation’s radar until critic Pete Wells’ review of 12 different restaurants in Queens borrow, the scene has always been eclectic and staple in the the city’s culture. As more exposure and food-critic praise circulated through the masses, it was only a matter of time before the trend trickled farther than just major cities and surrounding burrows.
Even in Northern Virginia, the growing trend has prompted crowdfunding campaigns to bring a new and tantalizing flavor to the traditional. Aspiring chef Chris Fitzner has already received praise for his bold, new spin on Korean cuisine. His latest food truck company, appropriately titled Sijang Tacos, infuses a mix of Mexican, Vietnamese, and American influences to deliver an appetizing selection that still respects traditional Korean dishes. Dishes like the hoisin sauce brushed Pho Dog, napa cabbage slaw covered tacos, and others are just the start of Fitzner’s food empire. More than just keeping the masses fat and happy, he also is set on giving back to the community by making several donations to homeless shelters and has already contributed to Woodbridge, Virginia’s Homeless Outreach Association in the name of Sijang.
Korean cuisine has been a part of the nation’s history for over 30 years, but is easily considered one of the nation’s fastest growing restaurant industries. Solely compared to its immigration rates, the recent popular culture fascination with Korean cuisine could be contributed to a number of factors. Many Korean restaurants stick to traditional recipes and, in a way, do not “Americanize” their food for the masses. It has not been until the past couple years, that infused dishes have made their way into the stomach’s and hearts of food lovers all-over. Considering that the slight twist on ingredients in traditional dishes has not taken away from the cultural aspect, it can debatably be stated that Korean dishes are still the few to become tainted and cliched for mass-American consumption.
By Tyler Cole
Serious Eats: How Korean Cuisine Got Huge In America (And Why it Took so Long)
Food Republic: 2014 in Review: Korean Food Had a Ridiculously Big Year in America
The Virginia Blogger’s Club: Sijang Tacos #NomNom