It’s officially a decade since the launch of the Asian Food Channel and there was no doubt that it was an instant success. Channeling the best of Japanese, Korean and Chinese cooking food lion elizabethtown nc techniques through a well-edited program, they brought the Asian food revolution to our living rooms.
But then something changed in early 2008. The channel shifted from producing original content to airing syndicated programs removed from their native countries. It became clear that this wasn’t just about TV shows that interested people in Asia but about marketing asian food to a Western audience – something which has been incredibly lucrative for many businesses around the world, including one here in Australia for whom advertising is worth billions of dollars.
1. “Frying” with a capital f
Probably the most notable example of this was a commercial for Pringles. While the product itself is not fried, the advert has been heavily criticized by people familiar with Korean culture since it portrays Korean cuisine as nothing but cheap fried food in dingy suburbs, and all in order to sell low-quality potato snacks. This image has rested firmly in the public’s mind since, and the way in which to get rid of it will be addressed later on.
However, other companies have portrayed Chinese and Japanese cuisine as being like this too – even though Chinese cooking is more often associated with fresh produce than anything else. A commercial for the French brand Desigual starred a Chinese woman with her hair tied up in buns, smiling as she prepared a dish of stir fry.
2. Stereotypes only work in one language
Asians and Asians cooking is a key part of many Western advertisements, but we are often presented with some pretty stereotypical ones – they’re sometimes portrayed as all wearing black and speak little if any English despite being successful business people, actresses or politicians.
The same can be said for Western companies who wish to market to Asian markets: yellow-skins eating spicy food isn’t exactly accurate either as this group is actually more diverse than you might realize (some people even have black, blue or even green eyes).
But it must be said that these stereotypes are effective in collating a certain amount of interest, no matter how stereotyped they may be.
3. We don’t want to cook your food
Maybe the most interesting point here is that many people actually do want to cook Asian food themselves. Which is why companies like to market it in such a way – they know there’s an audience out there and know how to reach them on an emotional level using imagery and sound effects, but that if they were to let people cook these dishes themselves they would probably be put off by the idea of cooking or eating them.
An episode of the Asian Food Channel that aired in 2008 actually featured a cooking program where you make your own sushi rolls. The problem is, they weren’t sushi rolls at all – it was the very same Pringles commercial.
So the question here becomes: what can be done with this information? It’s clear that companies know how to get us interested and start experimenting with these foods, but using methods that aren’t true to any culture or cuisine and are offensive at best and insulting at worst. If you want to reach out more to the Asian market, then there are other options available.
4. Remake for more success
So what can be done with all of this information? Taking the first commercial that was criticized, a remake could definitely be considered. Rather than targeting only the Asian market, it could then be made more accessible to people in the West, who may have no knowledge about these cultures and need some direction on how to use them. Instead of making people think it’s an unfair stereotype or an offensive commercial, it would just be something different that these people would immediately find interesting.
5. Make us think of real recipes
As mentioned before, Asian food is a huge part of Western culture at the moment and has been for many years now. But it’s no longer just limited to Asian cuisine – there are some pretty amazing African and Middle Eastern recipes out there too which show how diverse these cultures can be.
For example, a commercial for the Lebanese brand Amarone showed an Arab woman making a dish which was incredibly similar to the western recipe for shawarma, but with the exception of dipping the meat in yogurt. Another company produced a television advertisement for a dish called “kobebask”, which was similar to Vietnamese pho in that it consisted of rice noodles, beef and vegetables.
6. We can all learn something
The most important thing to consider here is that these are not your average people. They may be chefs, but they’re usually celebrities and hardly the type of person you would invite over for a home-cooked meal – this is especially true as many of them don’t really know how to cook very well, or just plain don’t have the time – some even go as far as to use recipe books!
So while you may think they’re incapable of taking up the role of a main chef in your kitchen, they often bring cooking techniques, ingredients and styles that are unique to them which may inspire you to try something new.