Popular fast food chain Shake Shack has released a new line of products in its US stores, but some are accusing the restaurant of cultural appropriation for its “Korean-style” menu items.
The limited-edition menu includes a Korean-style fried chicken sandwich, white kimchi ‘slaw, nuggets and fries served with a gochujang sauce’ and a black sugar vanilla shake. With 275 locations around the world, this particular menu is only available in US stores, until 5 April.
It is the use of traditional Korean ingredient gochujang – a type of chilli paste – that is causing a stir, with some accusing the restaurant of trying to profit from other cultures while appealing to a mass market in the easiest and most basic way possible.
One Twitter user wrote: “Very unsure how I feel about shake shack making a korean fried chicken sandwich and gochujang mayo fries. It sort of smells, kind of tastes like appropriation to me but idk.”
Another said: “I wish people never "discovered" gochujang”.
Meanwhile, others were glad to see the use of real Korean ingredients but thought that the sandwich actually didn’t taste that great.
New-York based Korean-American chef and restaurateur Jae Lee taste-tested the sandwich on Instagram live but found himself disappointed in the flavour. He was, however, thankful to Shake Shack for bringing traditional flavours to a wider audience, saying:
“I thank Shake Shack for introducing gochujang to a broader audience. I think what we can learn from this is there's an opportunity now for Korean restaurant owners, or Korean chefs in general, that want to use the word gochujang,” adding, “I think this is a good entryway for the Korean ingredient.
“I'm not offended by this. I think it's fine — I actually thank them.”
Speaking to Eater, Bobby Yoon, the owner of a New York City Korean restaurant, said it was the name of the product he took issue with.
“If you think about wasabi, or teriyaki sauce, or some kind of a Chinese food, [it’s not labeled] as ‘Chinese-style,” said Yoon, who believes the sandwich should have contained the name of the Korean ingredient like it is done with teriyaki chicken, for example.
Maybe next time Shake Shack should stick to what they do best.