If you didn't know, Korean food has been blowing up in the US as of late. Korean BBQ, kimchi, and bibimbap are just a few of the dishes that have exploded in the mainstream food industry and are terms you've probably heard of at least once in the past couple of years. It's been amazing to see my culture's food so enjoyed and loved by people all around the world.
There was a time, however, when Korean food was not so loved. So what changed? It wasn't the food. The recipes have not budged for generations. Media's portrayal of ethnic foods and the ethnic people representing these foods both changed (for the better) and it has been amazing to witness.
I recently took a "do-shi-rak" (a Korean lunch box) filled with my favorite "banchan" (Korean side dishes) packed neatly in a Lock & Lock container to work. My coworkers, a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, were fascinated by my lunch. They frequently commented on how beautifully it was packed, how good it smelled, and how jealous they were.
I was ecstatic at the feedback I was getting from my lunch. However, this brought me back to a somewhat traumatizing part of my childhood where unfortunately, a first grade Sara (me) wasn't so lucky.
I remember a time where having a "do-shi-rak" or "kimbap," (the Korean equivalent to a California roll) wasn't the coolest thing to have for lunch. It was always "Sara, why does it smell like that?" or "Sara. That looks so gross, how can you eat that?"
I was embarrassed for something I had been okay with all of my life. Little by little, I began to ask my mom to pack me things that were just like my friends'. My lunches turned into PB&Js— and I hated PB&Js.
The media has played a monumental role in opening up the eyes of the non-minority rest of America. For example, let's say someone living in the Midwest who has no access to exotic food is not a user of Instagram. They will live their entire lives not knowing that something like this exists out there.
But say someone from that same town who does use Instagram sees on their explore page one day a colorful spread of Korean food—they are much more likely to try it sometime in their lifetime. People all around the US—heck, the world—now have access to this information through social media.
With this change in portrayal and perception, I find myself changing as well. I have a newfound confidence and intense pride in my heritage as a whole. I'm no longer trying to mask the fact that I'm Korean. I don't feel shame when I talk about or eat Korean food. I share about my culture's food as much as I can on social media because it's beautiful, colorful, and full of life.
I am sitting in front of my computer as a proud Korean-American and self-proclaimed foodie, somewhat grateful for the belittling I went through.
Do I feel a bit of resentment to those who now love Korean food now that it's trendy? Yes. Are there times when I get angry seeing the food presented incorrectly? (ex. Korean BBQ tacos, wtf.) Sure. But being able to experience firsthand the power that media has on opening up people's eyes to try new things helps me overlook my bitterness and be proud of where I come from.