I was more than excited to do an ethnography of an Asian food restaurant as an assignment because I get to explore more of the local dining scene and get to eat as research. I will be honest and say that I have no actually eaten at a lot of the local Asian restaurants in College Park. Unfortunately, I tend to stick to Panda Express for quick lunches but I really don’t think that counts. I found a nice little spot near where I live on route one called Kangam Korean BBQ Sports Bar and Grill. That is a concept that I had never heard of before, an Asian sports bar restaurant. I went and checked it out one night and I would say that I was not disappointed in the quality overall.
The reason that I was so pleased with this restaurant is because it had an overall Asian theme, but was not overwhelming. The owner seemed to be extremely aware of the audience he was trying to attract. As the owner is from South Korea but has spent half of his life in America, he knew how he wanted it to be done. The goal would be to attract college students to an unheard of themed bar and then introduce them into the Korean culture. As you walk in you are greeted with a bar section before the main dining areas with TV’s all around. Not to mention that they have a display of their different beers, which include several Asian styles from Japan or Korea. I sat in the dining area which was a fairly open area that had tables with cooktops installed in them. This could be terrifying to unaware patrons wondering if they had to cook their own food, but it would soon be seen that the waiters would take care of it.
My waiter ended up being a young Asian American guy who was just super pleasant. He helped me understand all of the perks that come from eating in a Korean BBQ place such as all of the side dishes. Who would have guessed they start you out with some wild Asian tasters such as spicy kimchi, bean sprouts, other beans and, my favorite, bamboo shoots. I learned that it is pretty common for Korean meals to start out with these kinds of side dishes. While going over the menu, I noticed that they made it easier for Americans by listing their specials as local sports teams. Listening to some K-pop while we ate and waited for our entrees helped make the atmosphere a lot more genuine. My favorite observation was witnessing a somewhat stereotypical old Asian married couple at the next table over. They never said one word to each other, they just ate and were on their way afterwards. Now that I mention that, just about 100% of the customers were Asian which could mean that the food and atmosphere are reflective of their own food experiences in Asia. Perhaps what they felt were their own authentic experiences relived, which is what happened to my dad when we went there together. He was reminded of his times when he was stationed there a little over twenty years ago. He got the same dish (bibim naeng-myun) that he remembered eating there and thoroughly enjoyed it proving that food is a trigger for memories causing authenticity.
I, never having been to Korea, had to judge my food based off the Korean BBQ served at the Diner. You definitely get the feel that the cooks know what they are doing, using traditional spices used in Asian cuisine. Having got the spicy pork bulgogi and spicy ramen, I only wished that I had acquired my Japanese mother’s tolerance for spiciness instead of my American father.
All of the staff that I saw and spoke to were either Asian or Asian American helping bring the restaurant a sense of Asian community. The food I had was absolutely delicious and I genuinely felt like I had a good representation of Korean food from this restaurant. I think this restaurant has the right idea of trying to bring beginner Americans in to try Asian style food. From when I went there, I am not so sure of the popularity with the non-Asian locals are because the majority demographic of patrons were Asian. Although it might not be reaching them, it is definitely offering a local homecoming for Koreans.