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Mr. Han Ji-hyung

How About Bulgogi
with Traditional Korean Wine?

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The alcoholic beverages Korean restaurants usually serve are limited to local larger beers, ‘Soju’ (Korean distilled liquor), or ‘Makgeolli’ (a coarse unrefined rice drink). However, ‘Bulgogibrothers,’ a refined Bulgogi (Korean Barbecue) restaurant, is serving a wide range of traditional Korean liquors in the role of wines. The Bulgogibrothers, holding to the firm belief that traditional Korean liquors can help to globalize Korean cuisine, offers a wide choice of Korean beverages. Not surprisingly then the establishment is frequented by traditional liquor sommeliers who are rarely to be seen in Korean restaurants.

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The Korea AgraFood met Han Ji-hyung, a manager of the Bulgogibrothers, in their Ilsan store in Gyeonggi province. 

AgraFood : The figure of a traditional liquor ‘sommelier’ is relatively new to Korea. Could you characterize what he does?

Mr. Han : A traditional liquor sommelier does what a wine sommelier does; that is, he offers quality and informed appreciation of the tastes of traditional Korean liquors and recommends to customers suitable ones to accompany dishes. Lee Jae-woo, co-founder of the Bulgogibrothers, who is very enthusiastic about traditional liquors, introduced the sommelier idea to Korea. I ran into him and he suggested that I study traditional liquors. I responded with enthusiasm to his suggestion and took a short six-month training course. During this time I tried many Korean dishes and drinks with special regard to considering the compatibilities of drinks and foods.

Actually I studied architecture as my major but I decided to be a sommelier. Maybe I did this because I am too much in love with Korean traditional drinks! 

AgraFood : What is the important thing you are most concerned about when you recommend traditional wines to customers?

Mr. Han : The most important thing when I recommend liquors is the atmosphere of dining and drinking. Depending on the atmosphere - whether it is masculine whooping among guys, giggling among women, or dreamy whispering between lovers - I may recommend changes. Along with concern for the atmosphere, finding out what were the last dishes customers had and checking whether or not this is the first time a customer has visited our restaurant is also important. Many customers still do not know much about traditional Korean liquors, so it is helpful let them experience the tastes of the liquors and be advised on what and even how to drink along with elected foods.

AgraFood : How did you come up with the idea of linking Korean cuisine such as Bulgogi with traditional alcoholic drinks? And this case in what ways do you think that Bulgogi and drink are well harmonized?

Mr. Han : Bulgogi is one of the representative Korean dishes enjoyed by Koreans and non-Koreans alike, so it goes perfectly well with traditional Korean liquors. The Bulgogibrothers does not aim to sell liquors as such; rather it focuses on popularizing the drinks so that more people have a chance to get to know better about traditional Korean liquors. In an effort to do that, the Bulgogibrothers includes traditional liquors when customers order their la carte menu, and is offering an opportunity to sample drinks they want.

Bulgogi is a greasy food but liquors soften the beef and bring out the taste. Therefore, in reply to you question, Bulgogi and liquors are indeed well-suited. In particular, Hwayo (distilled premium Soju), without color and smell which won a prize at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), is well-matched with Bulgogi as it softly flows down the throat. 

AgraFood : Could you outline your plan for the future especially regarding your strategy to help globalize traditional Korean liquors.

Mr. Han : ‘Moonbaeju’ (a grain wine) and ‘Leegangju’ (a fine alcoholic drink with yellowish color) are becoming recognized around the world for their attractive bouquet and are exporting well. Crucial to help actualizing the aspiration of globalizing Korean cuisine, Korea should have representative liquors like French wines and Sake (Japanese rice wine) of Japan.

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After opening a 12th store at home the Bulgogibrothers is all geared to open up overseas restaurants in the United States, Japan, and China, and finished registering their trademark. The Bulgogibrothers will continue to help in spreading the excellence of Korean food and food culture, including traditional Korean liquors, and to garner royalties from the export of Korean food.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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