For a long time, I have wondered why Korean food does not get the foodie crave-ability respect it deserves. While doing some research for this post I discovered that the government of South Korea has the same issue, and it is doing something about it. According to an article in The Korea Times, the Korean food ministry is planning to budget money for the promotion and opening of Korean restaurants abroad. It wants to see 40,000 Korean restaurants worldwide by 2017. Along with the promotions, the South Korean government will give a stamp of approval for restaurants that meet its criteria for authentic cuisine.
Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo stated that 2008 would mark the start of a globalization effort for Korean food. The aim is to make Korean cuisine one of the top five most recognized cuisines in the world . . . well, I don't know about that. Chinese, Thai, and Japanese food all came honestly by their popularity in the U.S., sort of. Those cuisines sold out to find a market (like egg foo yung, sweet pad Thai, and teppanyaki), built the client base throughout years and years, and slowly introduced us to authentic cuisines.
As I alluded to earlier, I like Korean chow very much. I like it because there is a comfort quality to it for me. Kimchi soup with a side of rice is such a simple and heart-warming dish, and it doesn't have to burn your palate or gullet. Bulgogi is very much like teriyaki, simple, salty, sweet, and meaty. Kal-bi are marinated short ribs that you can grill at your table. Man doo are tasty pork and vegetable dumplings that can be simmered, steamed, or fried and then dipped in sweetened soy sauce--perfect. Korean cuisine has a healthy aspect as well; grilled meats and fish with simple soy-based sauces, fermented kimchi, bowls of rice, and a lot of vegetables make for a mostly guiltless dining experience.
I haven't even mentioned the banchan or little side dishes that are served before your entrée. Locally, we get about six of these dishes, and you can get as many refills as you like. They can include kimchi, pickled bean sprouts, marinated potatoes, pickled eggplant, tofu skin, fish cake, and so on. I crave Korean food as much as I crave other Asian cuisines and eat it often. But it seems to be a second thought or uncharted waters for most of my friends until I get them to go. Generally they get hooked. I think it's a surprise because they didn't realize how approachable the food really is.
A few of the places we frequent are Mirror of Korea, Kum Gang San, and Sole Café (for lunch and chef's chewy noodle salad); all are in St. Paul on Snelling, just north of University Avenue.