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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Conquering the world, one side dish at a time

In a matter of 24 hours I went from this

to this.

Okay, not exactly American food. My first meal back in the US was Lebanese, the next was Mexican and the night after was a traditional English Sunday roast (I skipped the roast and went straight for the enormous veggie selection). I guess last night's baked salmon with sweet potatoes was the first truly "American" dinner I've had.

Bibimbap was my go-to meal in Korea. Cheap, healthy, delicious and fast, it was an easy dinner option when nothing else looked appealing or I was feeling too lazy to cook. Last year, the Korean government launched an initiative to make Korean food one of the world's top 5 ethnic cuisines by 2017 and they would do well to include bibimbap as one of their headlining dishes.

The program, Global Hansik, includes measures to create Korean cooking classes at world-famous Le Cordon Bleu and increase the number of overseas Korean restaurants to 40,000. However, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is almost unavoidable: smell. Specifically, kimchi's unique odor.

According to a survey by the Corea Image Communication Institute, "the unique smell of Korean food is the biggest barrier to globalizing the cuisine."

Having spent a year living in Seoul, I'll be the first to come out and say that if kimchi is the worst Korean food you're smelling, consider yourself lucky. After a year, I became accustomed to and, dare I say, enjoyed kimchi -- although I'm not about to purchase a kimchi refrigerator and bring a Tupperware container of pickled cabbage to Lauren's dinner party next week.

There are, however, Korean foods that smell far worse than kimchi. One in particular -- I'm not sure of its Korean name -- was so pungent that it earned the nickname "farm soup" because it smelled like the inside of a barn. A popular restaurant just a block from school served this delicacy and the odor emanating from inside was so revolting that teachers held their noses while scurrying past or crossed to the other side of the street.

Somehow I don't think farm soup will ever become a worldwide sensation in the vein of tom yum or wonton soups.