Authenticity: Is it only about the food?

There seems to be a discourse associated with the “authenticity” of Asian restaurants in America and probably anywhere outside of Asia. We expect Asian restaurants to look a certain way, play certain media and offer certain things on their menu.


In my own experience with Asian restaurants there always seems to be something that separates the restaurant from looking American. One of those things is the décor of the restaurant, with the exception of the furniture. Usually when you go in an Asian restaurant the art that is displayed on the walls is reminiscent of the art from that culture, much like what is shown in the image above. This is a picture from Seoulia, a Korean restaurant in Beltsville Maryland, where you can see that on the wall there is art with Asian style landscape paintings. Also on the border that separates the left and right sides of the restaurant you can see a poster advertisement of Soju, which is one of the most popular Korean alcoholic beverages. Another thing that you can see in this picture is a board hanging from the ceiling that features the combos that are offered but they written completely in Korean. Seeing these things in the restaurant would give a customer the idea that this is an authentic Korean restaurant. Nothing about this restaurant appears to be Americanized, which seems to be something that was stressed among the people who were in the ethnography discussed in the Alien Encounters reading—especially in relation to food. This was even something that the people who accompanied me to Seoulia said. They thought it was a rather authentic representation of Korean restaurants in the sense that it did not remind them that they were in a restaurant in America.

Sometimes I have noticed televisions in Asian restaurants that play TV shows or music videos from the country that the restaurant is representing. Seoulia is one of those restaurants that have Korean television shows playing on their television. It gave me the feeling that I was in a restaurant in Korea. The only American thing in the restaurant was music that was playing quietly somewhere near the kitchen. While my friends and I waited for our meal and even while eating, we found ourselves constantly looking up at the tv and we did not notice the American music playing until commercials came on. The other Korean restaurants that I went to played Korean music videos rather than television shows and because of this I thought that in order for a Korean restaurant to be authentic it had to have a certain look or media playing.


Due to the aforementioned traits, the restaurant that I went to for my ethnography seemed to not be an authentic Korean restaurant at all. This restaurant is called Bonchon and on entry to the restaurant I felt as though I was walking into an American sports bar and restaurant. There was nothing on the walls that seemed Korean at all. As you can see in the picture above there is a large picture of a bridge that appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge on Bonchon’s wall. Even though there were televisions in Bonchon they were all showing American television channels. The overall decor took away from the experience of this being a Korean restaurant especially while I was waiting for my order to come. I ended up looking at the television and I almost forgot I was in a Korean restaurant until my food came.


The food offered at Bonchon was a mixture of Korean food, Japanese food and other Asian foods whose origin is unclear to me. Although the Japanese foods would seem out of place to some customers who know of them, I thought that it made sense that they were options on the menu. This is because I have seen these as either a street food or a restaurant food option in Korean dramas. It is this fact that allowed me keep an open-mind about what foods a restaurant can have and still be considered authentic even if it is from a country other than the one that the restaurant represents. Due to the history of Korea and their neighboring countries it seems inevitable that Korean restaurants might have foods that originate from other countries. After asking a Korean native I found that foods like Takoyaki (the first image above) and Okonomiyaki are indeed easy to find in South Korea. So although it is not like Seoulia, which only offers Korean foods, Bonchon can still be considered as an authentic Korean restaurant to some extent.

Buldak 2 Tteokbokki

The whole experience of being in an Asian restaurant is the deciding factor of whether or not it is authentic. For this reason Bonchon would not be seen as an authentic Korean restaurant, while Seoulia would be.


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