It’s a stone cold lead pipe lock: Korean food will be the next big thing. No, I really mean it this time. Now I admit there have been some false starts in the past:
  • 2006Slashfood posted an article about Korean royal cuisine (surasan,) which appeared in The Korea Times leading some bloggers to hail Korean cuisine as the next big thing.
  • 2007 - New York Magazine in their "Cheap Eats" section declared “2007 will go down as the year KFC took on another, much more delicious meaning … Korean fried chicken, an inspired, delectable variation of our homegrown kind, has reached critical mass.”
  • 2008 - Flavor and The Menu speculated that “If Korean food is not as well known among non-Asians as, say, Japanese or Thai food, just wait a bit; its time is about to come.”
But as the end of 2009 looms, there is no doubt Korean cuisine has arrived. In fact, to make sure that Korean cuisine is not some mere flash in the pan, the Korean government has launched a global “Hansik” initiative. The $42mm program’s goals include:
  • Increasing the number of Korean restaurants to 40,000 worldwide by the year 2017.
  • Opening a new kimchi institute to develop various kinds of the pickled vegetable and other fermented Korean food items to attract more foreign tastes.
The program’s ultimate goal is to make Korean cuisine “one of the five most popular ethnic foods in the world.” World domination aside, Korean food has truly begun to capture the imagination of the American dining public, lead by the most unlikely of segments: mobile food trucks and fried chicken.

Mobile food trucks such as Kogi BBQ, Calbi, The Krave , Marination and Koi Fusion bring contemporary Korean fusion cuisine to the masses:
  • Seoul Sliders @ Koi Fusion - Bulgogi BBQ beef, shredded Nappa cabbage, griddled onions, crisp bean sprouts and spicy mayo.
  • Spam-a-Lot Short Rib Burger @Kogi BBQ - Toasted Bun, Coconut Lime Chilli Spread, Short Rib, Spam Goodness, Grilled Mushrooms, Onion Cilantro Lime Relish, cheddar cheese and jack cheese.
  • Kimchee Quesadillas @ Marination – flour tortilla, kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage), jalapeno peppers, kalua pork and melted cheese.
Korean food trucks have even attracted mainstream attention. Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chief executive David Kim and investors acquired Calbi earlier this year. Calbi is one of the first in Los Angeles to offer the concept to potential franchise operators.

Unlike food trucks whose success is driven by Korean fusion cuisine, Korean Fried Chicken concepts offer a distinctly Korean treat albeit with one concession to the realities of the American marketplace. Korean chickens are much smaller than their American counterparts, so whole chickens are fried and hacked up into bite-size pieces. Larger American chickens are a challenge to cook evenly hence the need for Korean-style chicken places here to serve mostly wings and drumsticks. The distinguishing feature of Korean-style fried chicken is its thin, crackly and almost transparent skin - think Peking Fried Chicken. The chicken is typically finished with either a sweetish garlic-soy glaze or a hotter red-pepper sauce. The other notable feature of Korean style fried chicken restaurants is their quirky names. To wit: Unidentified Flying Chickens (NYC), Bon Chon Chicken (NYC), Chicken Day (LA) Toreore Chicken and Joy (Chicago), and Cheogajip Pizza and Chicken Love Letter (Chicago).

There is even a Korean fast casual chain taking food hold in the United States. Sorabol currently has 13 units in California and 1 in Nevada. More are planned for Seattle, DC and NYC. The menu features traditional Korean Barbecue including Kalbi (barbecued short ribs), Bul Gogi (barbecued beef) and Dak Guyee (barbecued chicken). A variety of Asian noodle dishes are offered as well.

Next on the culinary horizon: Klingon. Trust me.

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Tags: Korean, Technomic, mandeltort, trends

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