I remember when I was younger, Korean food was not as popular as it is today. As a Korean American, I feel a sense of national pride to the fact that many foreigners are embracing Korean food. So what has changed over these years to make consumers think differently?
An amusing study was done by the International Journal of Hospitality Management that compared how Americans perceive Asian foods. The study examined six Asian cuisines: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese. An online survey was conducted across 424 U.S. residents. They were asked on the food attributes they value most for a cuisine and also gave suggestions on what each cuisine is good at or what needs to be improved. (the full study is on: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431908000248)
The results were very fascinating. First, the attributes that customers valued the most were: taste, edible, quality, fresh, and digestible. The attributes least valued were being: spicy, light, or exotic. It seems that asides from taste, people value more on their health, since pursuing a “well-being” lifestyle is highly valued in modern society.
The results in a nutshell (foods with similar attributes grouped together):
-Chinese and Indian food: were very tasty, edible, and unique, but needs to improve on the quality, freshness, cleanliness and being digestible.
-Japanese food: no attributes customers thought should be improved on, and was the most highly rated among the six cuisines. It had the highest customer satisfaction.
-Korean food: deemed as fresh and with good quality, but needs to improve on making it pleasant looking, attractive, and digestible.
-Thai food and Vietnamese food: perceived as healthy, fresh, good quality, and pleasant looking, but needs to improve on being more digestible and clean.
-All cuisines: deemed as tasty, aromatic, and having a strong vegetable component.
Interesting observation based on the results is that perhaps these perceptions can be linked to how the ethnicity is perceived as whole. For example, many people might still have the prejudice that Chinatowns are “dirty”, or think of the slums of India (like from Slumdog Millionaire) and link that to food perception. The fact that customers did not suggest any improvements for Japanese food is also noteworthy. Why? Maybe because Japanese culture is more widespread to foreigners than the others, and maybe the food is more Americanized/caters to American tastes (like beef bowls and California rolls). Japanese food is also the only one that was deemed as digestible, which is another amusing fact. Are people very used to Japanese flavors now? Hmmm..
Regarding the question in the beginning, perhaps the perception of Korean foods have changed because the perception of the nation has changed more positively. Also, nowadays more people are interested in Korean culture, such as Korean music and dramas. It seems natural that these interests would maybe even lead to interests in food and possibly have an effect on its perception.