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Korean barbeque, a popular way to eat and grill meat with family and friends, is embedded in a history of war, conquest and reclamation.
Ancient history: Molded by eras of conflict, KBBQ can be traced back to the Goguryeo era (37 B.C.–668 A.D.) with the creation of “maekjeok,” or skewers roasted over a fire, which later turned into “bulgogi.” The former came from the nomadic Maek tribe who lived in that era.
Later in the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), “neobiani,” or thin, marinated and charbroiled beef slices, emerged and were the royal’s favorites, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
However, Buddhism influenced Korea for centuries (57 B.C.E.–668 C.E.), where it became the state religion and resulted in a ban on any meat-eating. “Banchan,” or vegetable side dishes, were etched into Korean cuisine from that moment on.
After the Mongol invasion (1231–1259) and Korea was subject to their rule, meat dishes were brought back into their food culture, according to Michael J. Pettid’s “Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History.”
During the Japanese invasion of Korea (1910–1945), meat shortages led to skyrocketing prices that eventually returned by the ’90s.
Drinking culture: Alcoholic beverages have been paired with grilled dishes since before the Joseon era. Although Korean drinking culture and etiquette came about from “Sohak,” or “Lesser Learning,” during that time, according to the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage’s “Sul.”
Strict rules were set on how one should behave and be respectful when in a drinking setting based on factors like social class, gender and age.
Regardless of classes, drinking was a time enjoyed by everyone from kings to servants.
There is a Korean expression called “jujugaekban,” which translates to “the owner asks the guest to have some liquor and the guest asks the owner to have some rice.” Similar to “burying the hatchet” with a rival, it means coming together and treating each other with courtesy.
Laborers and farmhands would convene and take a break from an exhausting day while sharing their thoughts over liquor, calling out to “passing strangers, neighbors, family elders or friends to join them.”
KBBQ now: After the Immigration Act of 1965 unrestricted access for Asians entering the U.S., the number of Korean immigrants boomed in a 2,500 percent increase from 1960 to 1980. It would continue to double per decade, bringing bulgogi and banchan with them.
In the 1990s and 2000s, after more Korean entertainment and K-pop entered the scene in what is known as the Hallyu Wave, or the Korean Wave, more and more fans flocked to learn about Korean traditional cultures, food and the language.
Second and third generations of Hallyu led to the astronomical success of K-pop and Korean dramas and continue to globally promote Korean culture to this day.
“When a culture become popular and really hits the mainstream, everybody starts to look at the food,” San Francisco chef Deuki Hong told Taste. “It’s moving in the right direction. Some people…are scared that Korean food is going to be a fad, but we’ve been there, and it’s definitely not a fad.”
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