Korea Times - Korean menu too confusing?
By Jane Han NEW YORK ― So what in the world is spicy soybean stew, bean paste soup with tofu, and fermented bean stew? Sounds like a funky mix of bean dishes, but they all mean one thing ― ``doenjang jjigae,’’ a quintessential Korean soup.
For those familiar with Korean cuisine, ordering at a restaurant is a breeze. But not so much for the newbies, who first have to decipher the menu with all kinds of puzzling descriptions. ``I try something, really enjoy it and try to order the same thing again at a different restaurant next time, but then realize that I don’t know the exact name of the dish. That’s when I go into a description game with the server,’’ says Jenny Patal, a Columbia University student and novice at Korean cuisine, or hansik.
Korean restaurants in the U.S. serve a full range of hansik, but dishes can take on a completely different identity on the menu depending on which joint you walk into. For example, one eatery would label ``tteokbokki,’’ rice cakes smothered in spicy pepper paste sauce, as ``stirfried rice pasta with vegetables,’’ while another simply calls it ``rice cake snack.’’
The confusion grows worse when the actual name of the dish is entirely omitted or oddly translated. ``I recently took a non-Korean friend out to have him experience hansik, but I was surprised to read on the menu `Mongolian Hot Pot’ instead of `Yukgaejang,’’’ said Kang Woo-sung, a New York University graduate student. ``I knew there was a serious problem when he asked me why we’re having Mongolian food at a Korean restaurant,’’ said Kang, who was motivated at that point to take action. As vice president of New York University Korean Graduate Student Association (NYU KGSA), he organized a campaign aimed at correcting menus at the city’s large number of Korean restaurants.
According to the student group, menu information will be gathered from area businesses and passed on to the Korean Cuisine Globalization Committee for further review and solution. Kang pointed out three major problems with menu write-ups: Omitting proper dish names, incorrectly translating food names and descriptions, and leaving out descriptions altogether. ``Some restaurants simply replace the word `japchae’ with `clear noodles’ and `galbi’ with `short ribs BBQ,’’’ he explained. ``But funny enough, Japanese restaurants carry the same dishes under `japu che’ and `karubi,’ which misleads people to think these are traditionally Japanese.’’
Other odd menu listings include ``chicken butthole house,’’ which should be translated as chicken gizzards, and ``six times,’’ which is meant to label ``yukhoe,’’ beef tartar. ``Korean restaurants overseas shouldn’t simply sell food to diners,’’ said Kang. ``They must try to package and sell Korean culture as well.’’ ``Food plays a significant part in promoting culture, so an approachable and easy-to-understand menu is the first step to open up that cultural experience,’’ he added.
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