In the past few years there has been a disturbing trend in urban/hipster “foodie” circles of Columbusing Korean food in an attempt to cash in on its reputation for unparalleled deliciousness.* And like most examples of greedy cultural appropriation, the trend can be marked by its abyssmal ignorance of the culture being appropriated.
To wit: Sriracha is NOT Korean.
The trend has recently been picked up by nationwide, corporate fast-food chain WingStop which last month started marketing “Spicy Korean” wings that apparently are flavored with “a spicy kick of sriracha chili sauce”.
Huh. That’s interesting because SRIRACHA IS NOT KOREAN.
See those characters on the bottle? Not Korean. See those words “Tương Ớt” and “Huy Fong”? NOT KOREAN.
Asia, as it turns out, is an enormous continent comprising 30% of the world’s landmass that contains 50 countries and 60% of the world’s population.
NOT ALL THOSE COUNTRIES AND PEOPLE ARE THE SAME.
In addition, weather conditions in many parts of Asia are such that red chili peppers grow in abundance. Probably because God loves us most. And yet...not all red chili sauces are the same either.
For the record, Koreans love chili peppers to the point where we pretty much eat them daily. I once went 6 weeks without red chili peppers and couldn’t figure out why I had started spontaneously crying at mealtimes (true story). The one you have most likely seen on your “Asian rice bowl” (bibimbap) is called gochujang. It is a sticky, sweet red chili paste that looks like this:
IT IS NOT SRIRACHA.
If you want to put sriracha on your rice and veggie bowl that’s fine, sriracha is delicious. But if you put it on bibimbap you’re cheating yourself and if you ask for it in a Korean restaurant they will hate you and probably spit in your food.
The most common use of chili peppers in Korean cuisine is in kimchee, the national condiment in which cabbage is pickled in vinegar, chili peppers, anchovy paste and garlic for months until it looks like this:
Mmmmm, look at all that vinegar-y, red peppery goodness. Kimchee is a superfood owing to its high concentrations of garlic, fish oil and Vitamin C, and according to Korean grandmas everywhere is the reason that Korea was the only country in Asia not to get SARS.
Therefore, if your kimchee looks like this you are jeopardizing your health.
Not least of all because if you try to put some fucking sriracha on some plain ass Irish cabbage and call it “kimchee” I will send my grandmother to your house to shame you into a nervous breakdown.
This is a point of good taste but it is also a point of cultural responsibility. Every time you go to some bullshit hipster-owned food truck that puts kimchee and sriracha on a store-bought tortilla and calls it a “Korean taco” you are taking money away from real Koreans who make real Korean food with love, pride and centuries of knowledge. And even if they don’t have those where you live, Youtube has hours of video that can teach anyone who has enough free time to make craft beer and learn to play the fucking ukelele to authentically recreate Korean food instead of just going to the Kroger, picking up some other Asian country’s chili sauce and lazily calling it “Korean”. That’s like putting enchilada sauce on spaghetti and calling it “Italian”. Why not they’re both red, right?!
So friends, the next time you go to your local gourmet market or foodie fest or trendy restaurant and see something like this:
Or see a bottle of goddamned sriracha next to something that looks like this:
Please look the ignorant (probably White) person who handed it to you in the eye and calmly but firmly tell them: SRIRACHA IS NOT KOREAN.
*Hell yes I’m biased.