Kimbap. Tteokbokki. Korean Pears. Mandu. Does that make your mouth water? Imagine my absolute joy and earnest salivation when I walked into the main expo floor at this year’s KCON 2019 NY Presented by Toyota on the first day just before lunchtime. To everyone’s delight, Korean cuisine was even closer to the focal point of the action at this year’s KCON. Even more diverse and exciting samples of foods and beverages were available than ever before, and cooking demos by Chef Jae Jung and Chef Youngsun Lee were featured on the main convention stage. Welcome to the world of K-food!

Simply Lightly!  Cooking demo with Chef Jae Jung
Simply Lightly! Cooking demo with Chef Jae Jung. Photo: Katrina Palen

Without a doubt, the Hallyu wave brings with it great interest in Korean products and culture, especially food. Korean popular media takes eating to the next level as the pioneers of mukbang, streaming eating shows. While there’s no shortage of mukbang specialists on platforms like Twitch or YouTube, watching my favorite idols eat delicious food is probably the pinnacle of entertainment (in my hungry opinion). Idols and celebrities often make recommendations for different foods to try, and KCON NY was a great place to sample those items this year. To promote their delicious goods, popular Korean franchises and brands were present at KCON NY, such as Tous Les Jour, Bibigo, and Melona.

One of the main attractions at KCON NY was the K-Food Fair, hosted by the Korea Agro Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation, with a historical booth set in a Korean traditional market circa 1819 to showcase the evolution of Korean flavor and tradition. The market included games and traditional Korean garments available for try-on, among the fresh delights of Korean fruit and snack samples (and Astro promotional visuals!) The K-Food Fair village was also full of entertainment, complete with performances of Korean traditional dances and demonstrations about Korean agriculture products. There were so many opportunities to learn about Korean food, products, and nutrition at every corner!

One of my favorite activities was the jeolpyeon rice cake stamping station, where you could decorate your own rice cakes with your selection of patterned stamps before indulging in the gorgeous treat. The traditional market also had a station where con-goers could learn to make their own kimbap. Unexpectedly, I was able to catch one of the internet’s favorite foodies Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling making his own kimbap and visit all the K-Food Fair village activities! 

To highlight Korean food-tech, the fair also demoed a Korean 3-D pancake printer. Yes. That’s right. I saw printed dinosaur pancakes. As a kitchen appliance aficionado, I really need one of these. (Obviously, I’d print pancakes of my favorite K-pop lyrics. Maybe even K-pop memes.)

Also featured were some of my favorite ingredients and snacks like seaweed chips and dried shrimp chips. Samples of staples like pajeon (savory pancakes), ramyeon, and ssamjang pork were available, but the fair also introduced more novel flavors such as herbal teas, mealworm sliders, and omija milssam (wheat crepes with Korean berry). I’d never tried omija before, and it was the ingredient I became the most interested in following the expo.

With the global attention on Korean culture, it’s no wonder Korean cuisine is also taking center stage in America. Research from The NPD Group indicates that interest in Korean flavors has increased dramatically, such as Korean barbeque sauce, which has seen a 120% increase in volume from distributors to small and independent restaurants in the US. Korean barbeque, kimchi, and other fusion dishes like Korean tacos are the gateway for the mainstream interest in authentic Korean cuisine; and this interest is accelerating quickly. I was absolutely delighted to experience the exciting food exhibitions this year at KCON and look forward to seeing the K-food continue to grow at KCON and in the American food scene. …Is that my tummy rumbling?

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