According to a recent New York Times article, while world officials and leaders met at the UN summit in New York City on Monday, a more delicious kind of diplomacy went on in the nearby town of Great Neck: Culinary diplomacy served up by Kim Yoon-ok, wife of South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, in the form of traditional Korean cuisine. The event, which was attended by American veterans of the Korean War, was a part of the “Korean Cuisine to the World Campaign,” which began in April of this year and seeks to raise awareness and popularity of Korean cuisine worldwide. Mrs. Kim assisted renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (whose wife Marja is Korean-American) in cooking Haemul Pajeon, a pancake like dish that’s stuffed with red onions, seafood, scallions, and kimchi; the dish was then hand served by Mrs. Kim to American veterans and their families sitting in the crowd, much to the displeasure of the first lady’s body guards.
The recent campaign for Korean food awareness was inspired by the successful integration of Chinese, then Japanese, then Thai food into American culture, with hopes that bulgogi might become the new sushi. The food campaign is the major part in South Korea’s current US mission and speaks volumes to the idea that regional cuisine can have diplomatic applications and serve as a universal bond to unite different cultures, and rightly so. Aspects of Chinese and Japanese culture have increasingly become a part of the American lifestyle since Chinese food and sushi became a part of our culinary lifestyle. While the acceptance of Korean food into American society has mostly trade and tourist implications in the short term, nobody can say for sure what long term effects could develop from South Korean culture taking a more prominent place in American society, as hinted at when Mrs. Kim told the crowd: “You all look very healthy to me; you might live to see the reunification of the two Koreas.”