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By the Plate: The Rising Popularity of KBBQ

KBBQ is sort of everywhere now, and that’s a good thing.

It’s no secret that K-pop has been taking the world of music by storm, and it was just a few years back that KBBQ (Korean barbeque, naturally) followed suit and showed the rest of the world that the cuisine is here to stay.

If you’re from Asia or from the United States, KBBQ is probably no stranger to you. From lining up at your local restaurant or heading into your local mom-and-pop store, you can always expect to be served some banchan (Korean appetizers) while you decide what to eat for your first round of your meal.

I was first exposed to KBBQ as a teenager in Hong Kong. My cousins were raving about it and wanted to try it in a new city.

The restaurant was in a small mall in Kowloon, and when we got there the restaurant had a 10-minute wait that all my cousins were okay with. Once we got in, we were led to a table with built-in charcoal grills and exhausts positioned right above them. I allowed my cousins to make the decisions when it came to ordering the meats and veggies while I quietly enjoyed the banchan. Once the meat was served, I jumped at the chance of being able to grill it for the group as it was also a new experience.

Ever since then, I’ve been the appointed cook at KBBQ places no matter whom I’m with.

The comfort of Korean barbeque has never left me. There’s just something about how grilled marinated meat, grilled veggies, kimchi, a few appetizers, and a little gochujang come together to taste so great.

There is more to KBBQ than just grilled meat, though. Most places also serve gyeran-jjim (steamed egg), sundubu jjigae (a soybean paste-based soup), bibimbap (mixed rice), and, of course, banchan. Banchan consists mainly of kimchi, fermented radish, bean sprouts, spinach, and some other veggies in gochujang. 

Then, of course, there are the different cuts of meat and different types of veggies. Most places in Asia stick to the regular cuts of  chicken, pork, beef, and shrimp, while in the West more places cater to all those meats and even their different parts. Contrary to popular belief, though, there is more to Korean food than KBBQ, but that’s a story for another time.

Come to think of it, most cities that I visit now have their own version of KTown as well, whether it’s New York, LA, Manila, or Cebu. KTown is always a different experience because each restaurant has their own marinades and their own signature style for how to do things.

I never realized that KBBQ was such a big thing until I moved to LA and noticed that most of the KBBQ restaurants, whether or not they were in KTown, had lines that were at least a 15-minute wait and people were actually happy with the wait. It actually only hit me how popular it was when I saw a few of my favorite DJs waiting in the same line as me for one of my favorite KBBQ spots in LA.

That wasn’t even a rare occurrence: once I started exploring the different options, I noticed the lines were a regular thing and so was running into people whom I actually just knew through TV or radio. I had similar experiences every time I’d visit my friends over in New York, too. Just goes to show how KBBQ is sort of everywhere now, and that’s a good thing.

Photos: Karishma Gidwani & Unsplash