Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pittsburgh's 2012 Korean Food Bazaar was very good.

I'm not sure how the organizers of the annual Korean Food Bazaar at Shadyside's Korean Central Church of Pittsburgh (피츠버그한인중앙교회) will measure the success of this year's festival---by attendance, by money raised, by new parishoners---but by my humble estimation it was quite good as far as these things go.

There's a lot of noise made by Korean government and tourism officials about the need to globalize Korean food and bring it up to the level of recognition around the world of, say, Chinese, Thai, or Mexican food. Some obstacles in the way of this, at least in the US, are: restaurants unwelcoming to non-Koreans, menus hard to understand because of the Korean language or poorly-rendered English, and prices several times higher than what they would be in Korea. This festival was the complete opposite. There were friendly multilingual volunteers all around offering their help, guiding visitors through the ticket-buying process, and checking up on people who looked lost or confused. The menu had plenty of English and the signs above the food stations had ingredients and cooking instructions laid out in plain English (probably a necessity given all the different dietary needs and preferences of that neighborhood).

Hoddeok was a big seller. (Hadn't had this in years!)

And the prices were right. Well, righter than usual. A few times I've mocked local Korean restaurants for charging $8 for kimbap, or $10 for a small plate of 떡볶이: two staples of poor students and late-night diners that usually cost around a buck a serving in Korea. Charging $8 for kimbap goes against the spirit and the appeal of kimbap. While nothing cost 오백원 today, people could still get their old favorites and try a little bit of everything without laughing out loud at the prices.

The menu (click to enlarge). The naengmyeon was the most popular.

All that said, I couldn't hold it against the organizers if they had made the Korean Food Festival exclusively, um, Korean: Korean signs, Korean-speaking volunteers, Korean-language advertisements. Plenty of church functions strive to appeal solely to their community, their parishoners, and don't feel any need to reach out any further. However, that they made the effort shows they're keen to share with their neighbors and build local awareness of both the church and the Korean culture(s)---immigrant, international student, adoptee, 2nd-generation, scholar, enthusiast, the curious---that comprise it. Who knows, maybe the popularity of this annual food festival will inspire other Korean festivals throughout the year.


Most of the food was in the basement. Here's bulgogi and chicken.

Hoddeok on the griddle.

Some smoothies and jewelry for sale.

Even if you don't think about Korean food very much, or don't care about how it's globalized or how bloggers over-emphasize the talk of its globalization, it's still a pretty good time. It's similar to your average church festival, complete with church ladies, cooking in the basement, and kids running around. It's one of several big food festivals in Pittsburgh each May, and it draws a decent mix of people. I'll be posting about it next year, too, hopefully with more details and better pictures.