TikTok Star Ashley Yi Told Us Why It's So Important To Share Her Korean Culture - Exclusive Interview

Ashley Yi is a force in the food content world. While at first glance, her TikTok videos might just seem fun and light to her millions of followers, there's significant meaning behind everything she does. Yi likes to try different types of foods — from dim sum to scorpion — and bring audiences with her, exposing them to different cultures at the same time. This is much like her own experience. The California native told us in an exclusive interview that even though she's Korean, she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and didn't know much about her own heritage.

The social media star explained that everything changed when she went to college at UC Irvine in Los Angeles and she was able to start learning more about her own culture through food. This ended up being a gateway for her to try other things and understand more about herself in the process. Now, Yi likes to make quirky content that gives her fans a boost of serotonin but also introduces them to types of cuisines they may never have seen before. We spoke with her about what it felt like to have TikTok spotlight her as part of Women's History Month, misconceptions people have about Korean cuisine, what food she'll never eat again, and her favorite fast food meal that isn't served in America.

How growing up influenced her food style

Congratulations on TikTok choosing you as one of the women they want to spotlight for International Women's Month! What does that mean to you?

I'm like, "What?" Honestly, I'm still taking it in because I saw the list of the other women, and I'm like, "Are you guys sure?" But I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome, so I had to take a step back and be like, "You know what? You do deserve it." I don't see the impact I make directly, so if they saw that in me, I'm extremely honored, because when I think of these other women and women's history month in general, I think of these great women who make spaces and places for other women to grow and soar.

If they saw that in me, I'm so grateful. When I think of all these women and making these spaces, I think of how they take these opportunities that they get and they're inspiring other women and cheering on other women, supporting them to also take up space and grow into what they want to be. I'm grateful.

I read that you were born in California. Do you think that has influenced the type of foods you gravitate toward?

My food journey's actually so funny because I grew up in a predominantly white community, so I was never connected to my culture at all until college when I went to UC Irvine. It's very heavily Asian-based over there, so I was culture-shocked from my own culture, which is crazy. I met other people who love to take pictures of food. I love to take pictures of my food — it's ingrained in my DNA.

I met up with these people and they showed me so many cool things about other Asian cultures, and I suddenly found myself falling in love with my own culture. Now I'm an advocate. I love Korean culture and Asian culture. I'm trying to be a champion for all of that, exposing it to everyone. I realized through TikTok, it's been very, very easy to do that, and everyone wants to try Korean food and ingrain themselves into other Asian cultures. It's so cool to see.

Did your parents or family do a lot of cooking while you were growing up?

Yes, my mom and dad always cooked. My mom was always in the kitchen. She always made sure we ate and we left full first. She sprinkled in her Korean cooking all the time, but I'm like, "I want the Lunchables. I want the grilled cheese." But she always made sure I had the Korean staples, like the seaweed soup for my birthday. I'm obsessed with Korean short ribs on the grill. My dad, he's a meat master, so I'm grateful. He always had that for me. I always loved Korean food, but I didn't want to share it with anyone. Now that TikTok came around, I'm like, "This is all you need to eat, guys. This is all you need."

Misconceptions people have about Korean cuisine

You said that you started posting about Korean food because it brought you closer to your culture. In what ways would you say that's the case?

First off, food is the easiest way to share a culture with anyone. When I started trying different Korean foods, it wasn't me sharing it for the heck of it; it was my first time trying it too. What I do with my TikTok is I like to create the whole experience around trying a food, because I want people to know that [even though] it's something as small as a meal, it's something worth living for and experiencing and creating joy around it. When I try different Korean foods, I want people to be excited about it because it's so delicious. That's the first way to get them into the culture because that's how I was doing it for myself.

That makes a lot of sense. Do you think there are any misconceptions people have about Korean cuisine?

I do. It's [like] with any cuisine because it's so foreign to them, just like when I try other cultures' foods, it's my first time. Sometimes it's a little daunting because you don't know exactly what it is or how to eat it. It's like "How do I do this?" Even if you make a simple wrap, you want to do it right, so people tend to stay away from it or think, "Oh, it's weird," or "It looks gross."

My number one thing that I absolutely push is [that] no culture's food is weird or gross — it's simply a food you're not used to. That's where I like to go in and give them my firsthand experience and be like, "It's not scary. It's just something you're not used to, and I'll show you how to do it."

Why she thinks it's important to stay true to yourself on social media

In an article, you said that being authentic is more important than being popular. Do you think that's why your food content does so well?

I think so. I champion for authenticity because I sometimes have imposter syndrome coming through, I'm like, "Ooh, cringey. I don't know." But I'm like, "You know what? It's who I am." Even though I've only been doing TikTok for a little over a year, I stayed absolutely true to myself. My personality's chaotic, but I truly love watching my videos because I put my full, authentic heart and soul into it. Even a year later, I watched the videos I made in the beginning and I love it because it's who I am. If you stay true to who you are on your path, even down the line, you'll never feel like, "Ooh, I don't like that. I feel icky about that," because you're true to yourself in the moment.

That's how everyone should be — not caring what people think — because you don't want to ever lose yourself. You want to have people near you and support you for who you really are instead of this person you put online. I don't want to ever falter between these facades. I see other content creators have that moment where they're like, "Ugh, I'm losing myself to my social media," and I'm like, "Take a break. Figure out who you really are and represent yourself online in the most authentic way."

That's amazing that you've realized that and have been able to do that. It's difficult to fully be authentic for many people. What is the best food that you've tried so far that surprised you with how good it was?

Oh, my ... There's so many. It may be some weird food combos. Actually, lately I've been dabbling into a lot of different snacks, like Mexican cuisine. I found a Mexican market near me, and I walked in and my world was changed. I tried the giant chicharrón with the guac, and it was life-changing because it's like a giant chip with the guac. It's so good.

There's so many things — weird things. I want to try the fruit rollup with the ice cream that everyone's been talking about. You get ice cream — whatever ice cream, a popsicle, mochi, or whatever — [and] wrap it in a fruit rollup. It'll freeze. They take a bite, and it's crunchy. I heard it's amazing. I want to try it, but I don't want to break my teeth. I ate frozen fruit rollups back in the day; it was a little traumatizing.

A meal she struggled to eat and her current favorite unique candy

Is there any type of cuisine that you thought you'd enjoy and you actually hated?

I don't hate anything, really — I just know it's not for me. I'm a very visual eater ... There's some interesting things I've tried. Lately, I have had a lot of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Taiwanese friends. We go and eat, whether it's dim sum or balut, which is like a duck egg or chicken egg of a baby bird. It takes my breath away. I get a little anxious because ... I've been cursed with getting a very developed bird, so I'm traumatized. But when it comes to the taste, it tastes like a regular egg, and it tastes like chicken broth, and it's delicious if I don't look. I'll never get over it. But people eat it as a snack all the time.

In one of your videos, you tried different types of dim sum. What do you think makes that unique from other meals?

I love it because I love going between savory, sweet, savory, sweet. The opportunity to have so many different types of food ... You get to constantly change different foods on your palate. It makes the meal so exciting because when you have the same thing, after a few bites, you can get over it fast. I'm constantly changing. They come around with the cart and you get to choose whatever you want. It's a full-on adventure, and I love that experience.

You've also tried a lot of desserts and treats in your videos, from Dole Whip cheesecake to freeze-dried candy. What's been your favorite so far?

I don't know how, but I suddenly became the freeze-dried candy person. It's an experience. Candy's candy, but when it becomes this different form where it's unexpected, you don't know what it is. It's a little mind-boggling. You'll have chocolate with caramel, like a Snickers, but the caramel becomes this fluffy, crispy foam. It's crunchy and then it melts in your mouth, and you're like, "What did I just experience?" That's what is fun about it, the different texture. Everyone should try it once.

Her favorite fast food meal only served outside of America

On your TikTok, you show that you've been to fast food spots like Burger King and McDonald's in other countries. What's been your favorite meal you've had that isn't served in America?

What I can't get out of my head is the shrimp burger that was everywhere in Korea, and I'm like, "A shrimp burger?" But if you think about it, it's shrimp tempura — a shrimp burger, fried and put in there. I love shrimp, so I thought it was delicious. It's not dry. It has a good texture. It's very hardy, and it doesn't taste fishy or anything. It's quite good. Also, in Korea, they have bags for your drinks, which I'll never get over — a single bag for your drink so you could carry it.

Their desserts are a little different. They have churros and chicken strips, but they're like straws. It's very interesting — spicy chicken nuggets. What I love the most is that in Asian countries, when they say spicy, they mean it. They put little actual jalapeño bites in their chicken tenders when they say, "Spicy tenders."

Is there any food that you would never try?

[I'll try] anything — well, if it's legal. I'll try it twice to make sure I like it or hate it. I've had a scorpion in Thailand. It wasn't good; I won't try that again. It was on a stick, but chewing on it was the hard part. Think of it as chewing a plastic water bottle with blended-up squid inside. The outer shell was not meant to be eaten. I'm pretty sure the locals were laughing at everyone who tried it. I've even tried crickets and grasshoppers. Those aren't bad. It's like eating a chip.

Are there any other projects you have coming up you'd like people to know about?

I'm creating my own merch — [a] clothing line. It's called Nano Beings. It's my style because I'm five foot. I'm a small Asian girl. I struggle with finding clothes that fit me correctly and that make me feel confident, so I'm putting my style into a shop. I have quirky hats with ears, big sweaters with nice affirmations, and boots that are perfectly cut for small people. I want to make other people who are my body type and my height feel comfortable, cool, and chic, all that. That's what's coming up before the summer. It's been a long time coming, but it's coming.

Follow @ashyizzle on TikTok and Instagram, and check out the #WomenofTikTok: Women Who Will.

This interview has been edited for clarity.