The Campaign to Make You Eat Kimchi
Korean food is having a moment.
Baum + Whiteman food consultancy recently chose Kimchi, Korea’s traditional fermented vegetable dish, as one of the top food trends for 2016. According to Google, Bibimbap was one of 2015’s top five ‘rising’ foods by search query volume. And T.G.I. Friday’s—the north star of mainstream Americana—has even experimented with adding Korean tacos to its menus.
So why is Korean food taking off in the U.S. now, decades after the largest waves of Korean immigration?
It is the parent governments - a very clever idea:
And it’s not alone: countries including Thailand, Taiwan, and Peru have developed official ‘gastro-diplomacy’ programs through which they invest aggressively in marketing their cuisines abroad, training chefs, easing trade restrictions, and using a variety of other tactics in the hopes of becoming the next big food trend.
As it turns out, so-called ‘gastro-diplomacy’ is gaining traction as a valuable form of international relationship building and stimulus for tourism.
It started with Thailand:
In 2002, there were about 5,500 Thai restaurants globally, with very few outside of Thailand or the United States. Not only was general awareness of Thai cuisine low, it was extremely difficult to import Thai ingredients, let alone find chefs trained to cook with them. Seeing an opportunity to improve the perception of Thai food, and more importantly, the perception of Thailand as a tourist destination, the government launched the ‘Global Thai’ program.
Through Global Thai, the government set up culinary programs in Bangkok to train chefs, gave loans to would-be restaurateurs to help them start restaurants abroad, and helped chefs move abroad. New Zealand, for example, has a separate Thai Chef’s Work Visa, which allows qualified Thai citizens to live in New Zealand for four years and promises prospective chefs that they “can enjoy New Zealand’s scenery, culture, and friendly people.”
In addition to helping chefs find work abroad, the program makes it easier for Thai companies like S&P and CP to package and export Thai ingredients. One restaurateur told us that when she started her first Thai restaurant in 1995, most curries in the U.S. were made with evaporated milk rather than traditional coconut milk. Today, thanks to government support for manufacturers and producers, a host of traditional Thai ingredients including coconut milk and green curry have become grocery store staples.
Makes a lot of sense and the fallout is wonderful for us foodies as Thai ingredients are now available through our local wholesalers - we sell a lot of Thai staples at the store.
Much more at the site - a fun read and shows how much our culture is influenced by the actions of large groups with an agenda. Fortunately for us, this agenda is tasty eating so no harm, no