I’m sure this problem isn’t limited to Yelp, but I was looking up some Korean restaurants in California for a friend, and reading the reviews, I kept seeing over and over, “There were only 6 banchan dishes!” “There wasn’t enough variety in the small dishes!” “Wah wah wah!”
More than one reviewer, at a barbecue place in Los Angeles, complained that they had been served a dish of raw garlic and what were they supposed to do with that?
The banchen was disappointing! They didn’t even have regular kimchi!!! I’m like, really? one of the dishes was just garlic… what the hell am I supposed to do with that? eat it raw?? throw it on the fire? either way I wasn’t gonna eat a whole clove of garlic, this is not the Stinking Rose… Would totally give it a 5 star if the banchen was better or if the menu’s larger. We tried to order stuffs like rice cake or korean pancake, or even chap chae (clear noodles), they didn’t offer any of those things. Very disappointing! Definitely need to expand on the menu.
Maybe you should have asked. You might have found out how delicious it is to grill whole garlic and that some people love garlic so much, they tuck it in raw when they wrap up their meat and their lettuce into a ssam.
Many, many restaurants in Korea do not serve a plethora of banchan. When you get a steaming bowl of beef and tripe soup, where the shank bone has been simmered until the stock turns a milky-white, you don’t need any more banchan than two or three types of kimchi and maybe some greens. When a restaurant makes good banchan, that’s a plus, but the number of banchan is not the criteria by which you should judge the restaurant! To me, that’s like judging a Western restaurant for the variety in its bread basket.
A lot of Korean restaurants in the U.S., since they don’t specialize in a particular dish, do tend to put out a ton of stuff, most of which I think tends to be sub-par, like mayonnaise-based potato salad with apples and raisins. I realize that I’m spoiled. My mom makes great banchan and I’m not looking for it when I go out.
But to be upset because they didn’t serve chapchae or rice cakes? You should judge the restaurant for its meat if it’s a barbecue joint, for its noodles if it makes noodles, for its dumplings if that’s what it claims it does best. You don’t get mad because the pizza joint doesn’t serve hamburgers.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can admit, I’m a little worried about my own Korean food project. There’s so much about Korean food and its values that don’t translate easily into American food-speak. There are dishes that are bland and boring — they’re there to give your mouth a break from all the spicy excitement on the rest of the table. But if you didn’t know that, if you just ate a big bowl of soybean sprout salad or kongnamul, you might think, “What?”
I’m not a restauranteur. I don’t want to sell Korean food as a crowd-pleaser. I just want to present it on its own terms, even the dishes I don’t personally like, because even those boring dishes are part of something bigger than “delicious.” Is that crazy?