You go into a supermarket, desperately trying to find some avocado to make guacamole or some cilantro to season your dishes. Unfortunately, your chances of finding any of these vegetables in a Korean market is close to zero. Surely many previous US residents have once in their life suddenly been filled with a desire to eat some nice, homemade guacamole and set on a quick excursion to a nearby market, only to be disheartened to find that the closest thing to avocado is broccoli.
Exotic vegetables include produce like avocados, artichokes, cilantro, and basil. The reason why such vegetables are an everlasting hit in Western countries is not only because of the mouth-watering taste but also because of the variety of foods you can make with them. Whether it is for seasoning purposes or to make some nice rolls with avocados, these vegetables have enough potential to make any type of dish.
I know as a fact that many others face the situation of supermarkets not having vegetables we see everyday in the US, such as bell peppers. The integration of such “exotic vegetables” is necessary in widening the diversity of Korean culture. With a growing population of foreigners who immigrate to Korea, we must accommodate for these people and have supermarkets sell a much wider range of vegetables. As international citizens who know the uneasiness of being stripped away from everything we once knew, we have an obligation to introduce new types of vegetables into our markets.
However, what is the clear-cut line for something to be considered exotic? For the average American, when they hear that bell peppers are considered “foreign” items, they will most likely elicit an interesting response. In some aspects, Koreans avoiding vegetables like basil or cilantro is like Americans avoiding food like kimchi. Although the foreignness of such foods cannot be avoided, people can make an effort to close off that gap of unfamiliarity and embrace it into their culture.
Thus, the main problem is that Koreans consider avocados and cilantro as “exotic” when most people in the world see it as a common, everyday vegetable. So how do we integrate such vegetables into the Korean market so that the demand for them is substantial enough to actually be sold? The slow introduction of such vegetables is key to the acceptance of them. Perhaps another root cause is the xenophobic mindset instilled in the majority of Koreans, which might be the reason why there was not a big move to incorporate exotic vegetables into Korean markets for the past few years. Although there are many vegetables that can be imported into Korea, it is just that Koreans do not really accept these foreign shrubs into their society.
If that is indeed the case, our job as the bridge from Korean to Western culture is to alleviate the xenophobia that is persistent in society today. Also, the fact that there exists a large population that appreciates produce like bell peppers and parsley in and of itself is a legitimate reason for markets to stock such vegetables. Or just maybe, I’m analyzing this too deeply. Nonetheless, that does not mean that we can simply brush off this problem.
However, even if we succeed in bringing nonnative vegetables to Korea, beware: once you dive into the world of avocados and artichokes, there is no turning back to the safe lifestyle of fermented cabbage. So why do we not have these vegetables available for the general public? It is time for Koreans to immerse themselves in the joy of eating such vegetables. Hopefully, I’ll soon have the proper ingredients to make some tasty guacamole to dip my tortilla chips in.