"Hot,'' and "spicy'' may be common terms used to describe Korean food among Koreans and foreigners, as red chili peppers are used in variety of dishes.

Many Koreans who are accustomed to such stimulating and spicy foods often find some Western dishes quite unfamiliar. Foods with lots of butter, cheese, creams and other mild flavors are seen as ``boring.''

The flavors of Mexican and Indian foods are more familiar to Koreans. The use of red pepper in Mexican dishes and various spices in Indian cuisine are at least a little more familiar to even the most conservative Koreans.

The Korea Times met two chefs striving to meet in the middle ― keeping the original characteristics of their dishes while adding something extra to attract Koreans, too.

Mexican ― Chili, Chili, Chili

At the Millennium Seoul Hilton, chef Montserrat Pineiro of the Mexico City Airport Hotel is presenting some of her best dishes at the end of September for the ``Mexican Fiesta'' event.

``Before coming here, I was informed by a Korean acquaintance that Koreans wouldn't really appreciate creams or rich flavors. I had to look into all the dishes I could make and took many out,'' she said.

But she isn't too concerned. ``There are chili peppers everywhere, and I guess Koreans would like them,'' she said. The spiciness of the vegetable is softened by sugar, and is used everywhere from pasta to meat dishes.

Among the 24 dishes she is presenting, Pieniro picked Mole Poblano, Turkey in Puebla-style sauce, for Koreans. The dish is made of 68 different ingredients, from turkey broth to fried rice, and takes more than two hours to cook.

``It represents the Pueblo cuisine, which is one of the main streams back in Mexico,'' she said.

From unfamiliar names such as Ensalada de nopales (Nopal cactus salad), to Chilaquiles rojos, or tortilla chips with red sauce, the food represents each region of Mexico. ``Mexico is a country of various ethnic settlements, and their food culture got mixed up, too,'' she said.

Pineiro said chili is what made Mexican food popular worldwide.

While Mexican restaurants are crammed in Itaewon in central Seoul, Pieniro thinks it's just matter of time until more Koreans enjoy Mexican food.

``Americans love tacos. They get tacos and soup all the time,'' she said. ``And I hope Koreans would indulge in the Mexican cuisine ― a bit beyond chili, too!'' she said.

Indian ― Curry, Naan and Rice

Even those who have never tried exotic dishes can easily get accustomed to Indian food because it usually includes steamed rice and flour flatbread Naan to wrap the food.

Shovan Das, chef at Coex InterContinental Seoul, said it is quite important to keep a balance between the herbs and spices used in his home country and those of Korea.

In contrast to Pineiro, Das has to take out the really strong-flavored spices. ``I have tried several times, but many people advised me to go relatively subtle and mild,'' he said. Some of the strong flavors would not attract even the younger generation here, which is more open to world cuisine, he said.

``I am still in the process of figuring out how to use the right spice for the right people,'' he said.

Das, who is presenting some refined Indian dishes for the I-Chef Festival held through the end of the week at his hotel, said he had drawn up some menus including the steady sellers at the hotel and his own selection.

``Chicken and seafood curries are always popular. Especially shrimps, scallops and many other seafood make curry deeper and rich in flavor,'' he said.

Koreans, who are more accustomed to Japanese-style curry, can enjoy some flavor and edginess in a King Prawn dish. The Jheenga Vindaloo made of barbequed king prawn, pepper, chili sauce and others have gained a strong fan base. ``It is spicy ― the more you get to taste it, the hotter you may feel,'' he said.

He is trying out some other items on his regular menu. He said he is trying to push some original-style Indian dishes to Koreans and some of them are getting good responses.

Spinach curry is one of them. ``The vegetable makes the food color green and many people didn't like it at first. However, after constantly recommending it to people here, sales are going up,'' he said.

Coriander, used in many Indian and Southeast Asian dishes, is also getting good feedback, too. ``I heard many Koreans did't like it. But once they taste it, they keep coming back,'' he said.

Das said localization is important. These days, there are dozens of Indian restaurants in Seoul with waiting lists and ardent fans. He said it is because they are edible and attractive to Koreans. ``I have tried them several times. They are well balanced. In fact, I think they have reflected more Indian aspects than I expected,'' he said.

For Koreans who are used to rice rolls, he also prepares Naan-rolls with chicken and vegetables as a side dish.

``Indian food is growing, but we still have long way to go,'' he said. ``I am sure it could get as popular as any other cuisines in the world!''

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