How Korea Bought Its Way Into American Stomachs
Hey, it worked for Thai food
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2016 6:10 PM CDT
Updated Jul 31, 2016 3:23 PM CDT
South Korea paid millions so Americans would think bibimbap was cool. It worked.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – While some worry about Russia influencing the US election, other countries are surreptitiously having a massive impact on our meals. Priceonomics takes a look at the practice of "gastro-diplomacy," through which governments spend millions of dollars buying access to our mouths. "The latest food trend that you're obsessed with may be the result of a government effort to capture the hearts and minds of foreigners through their stomachs," the website explains. Gastro-diplomacy truly started with Thailand. In 2002, there were 5,500 or so Thai restaurants in the world, mostly in Thailand. Then the government launched "Global Thai." Now, there are more than 15,000 Thai restaurants around the world, and tourism in Thailand has increased nearly 200%, with many of those new visitors citing the cuisine as a major reason for their trip.

Now it's Korea's turn. This year, a restaurant serving Korean pizza waffles opened in Los Angeles. That a restaurant serving Korean pizza waffles is viable is at least partially due to a big investment from the Korean government. In 2008, South Korean officials were concerned about the country's brand and launched a $77 million gastro-diplomacy program called "Global Hansik." Then came the Kimchi Institute, countless Korean taco joints, a Korean-French fusion cookbook, a bibimbap version of Chipotle, and a Korean hot sauce hoping to unseat Sriracha. As Priceonomics puts it, Korean food "became a phenomenon." Since Global Hansik, tourism to South Korea has increased 70%. Read the full story here to find out what countries are paying to be the next hip food trend.