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Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Commentary, Korean Food | 1 comment

Koreans cringe at American kim snack attack

Koreans cringe at American kim snack attack

I never thought this seemingly innocuous Facebook post on Feb. 13 would cause any kind of uproar or irritation:

“Raleys grocery stores in Northern California are selling their own line of seaweed (김Kim/laver) snack packs.”


Comments such as this one on that post likely aren’t helpful or relevant for a grocery shopper in Northern California:

“OMG, kim is banchan, not a snack!”

Some Koreans living in Korea seem to be very disturbed that 김 (roasted seaweed), which is served in Korean homes as part of 반찬 banchan (side dishes), has turned into a substitute for potato chips in children’s and some adult lunch boxes in the United States, Australia and other Anglophone countries.

The Korean government, under the Lee Myung Bak administration, worked hard and spent lots of money to promote Korean cuisine. I suspect that one of the few successes of that endeavor was the special October 2011 “Korean Culinary Camp” hosted by the South Korean consulate in San Francisco.

Nearly 100 food writers, chefs, grocery buyers and caterers learned about basic Korean ingredients such as gochujang, doenjang and kim at the St. Francis Yacht Club. Sempio, Pulmuone, and other Korean food companies offered free samples and brought in chefs to serve Korean fusion dishes to inspire Northern Californian restaurateurs, grocers and food writers to experiment with Korean ingredients.

A few months later, I followed up with representatives from several of those companies on whether they had made any fruitful business contacts (“S.Korean food companies set sights on overseas wholesale buyers,” Yonhap News, January 2012).

Those professional relationships that were still in the incubation period in early 2012 seem to have started producing fruit as more U.S. grocery stores carry Korean cuisine. For example, Raley’s also now sells 고추장 gochujang, Nongshim ramyeon/ramen and kim in their stores.

Anytime a culinary treasure is exported to another country, it shouldn’t be surprising that a foreign culture enjoys the food in an unexpected way.

For example, gochujang or 쌈장 ssamjang (gochujang mixed with fermented soybean powder or paste plus accompaniments such as garlic and sweet onion) might become a substitute for ketchup and served with French fries. And expats in Korea are willing to tolerate Korean sandwich innovations such as Monte Cristos served with a side of strawberry jam for dipping.

So, Koreans should be able to stomach that 8-year-olds can devour kim like they would chips, along with their apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

1 Comment

  1. I eat them as snacks too!

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