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The Biggest Charm of Korean Cuisine - Being Around People

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The Biggest Charm of Korean Cuisine - Being Around People

Japanese Women Are Drawn to the Neat and Sweet Taste of Makgeolli
Offering Foreign Tourists Delicious Food and Excellent
Service is the Key to Globalizing Korean Food

Could you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m a Korean food columnist. I fell for Korean food when I came to Korea to study in 1999. After returning to Japan, I started writing about Korean cuisine for magazines and newspapers (and online) to let others know how charming Korean food is. I also wrote the books “Exploring the Charm of Korean Cuisine” and “Simple yet Healthy Korean Snacks to Go with Drinks.” Now, I’m running a blog, “Korean Food Diary.” You can check it out at http://koriume.blog43. fc2.com.
Honestly, I found it really unusual that someone from Japan, rather than Korea, has a profound interest in Korean food.

In your opinion, what are the appealing factors of Korean food?
First, eating Korean food, we can consume a huge amount of vegetables because of the many vegetable side-dishes and ssam (wraps in vegetable leaves). Also, there are a lot of hot and spicy dishes that somehow make us stronger. Plus, Koreans believe that one should not eat alone but always with someone close. I can recognize this companionship culture from jeongol (hot-pot stew) or gui (grilled dishes) that are never served in a single portion. People communicate when having a meal together and this helps forge social bonds. Besides, when I have a meal with Koreans, they talk about Korean food with great passion and affection for it. I like it and consider it to be the biggest merit of eating Korean food. In a nutshell, being around people is a great addition to Korean cuisine.

What is your favorite Korean dish? What Korean food do you never fail to eat when you visit Korea?
It is definitely naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles). And Pyeongyang-style mul-naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles in chilled broth), in particular. When I visit Korea, I always look for a restaurant famous for its naengmyeon dishes. When I visit the Korean countryside, I usually try local specialties.
I know that you’ve been to many places in Korea. Do you have any restaurants that you would like to recommend to foreign tourists?
I would highly recommend visiting Yeosu in Jeollanam-do. It’ll be the location of a large-scale expo in 2012. I was there last May and found a wide range of unique and delicious dishes served in many local restaurants. To name a few places, “Gyeongdo-hoegwan” specializes in pike eel dishes, “Gubaek-sikdang” serves excellent local foods, and “Dukkabi-gejang” offers scrumptious seasoned raw crab dishes. All of these places gave me mouth-watering experiences. Just so you know, Makgeolli Town (makgeolli is an unrefined rice drink) in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, is also great.

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I heard that makgeolli is hugely popular among Japanese consumers. Is it really true? If yes, how popular is it and why do you think the Japanese like traditional Korean wine?
Exports of makgeolli to Japan have been on the rise for the past three or four years. Since 2005, makgeolli bars have started emerging. These days, one can even order makgeolli in an ordinary bar. And last year big liquor companies like Jinro and Suntori entered the makgeolli market, so we can easily find the rice wine in a convenience store or a supermarket.
I guess a major contributing factor to this popularity is “Hallyu”(the Korean Wave - the popularity of Korean movies, dramas, pop music, and other cultural exports). Japanese women interested in Korean culture started frequenting Korean restaurants about five years ago. At that time, many Japanese people thought that soju (distilled potato liquor) is what Koreans usually drink. But Japanese women pretty much don’t enjoy strong liquors. Searching for an alcoholic drink that goes well with Korean food, they turned their attention to makgeolli. To those who cannot drink hard liquor, the sweetish and refreshing makgeolli is very appealing.
Japanese sushi and sake, and Vietnamese rice noodles have become well-known global foods. Compared to these, Korean food still has a long way to go.

What efforts do you think we have to make to achieve wide recognition of Korean cuisine?
One of the most popular foods in Japan is Korean kimchi. In the 1990s, there was a sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew) boom in the United States. And these days, it is a trend to use bulgogi barbecue in Mexican tacos.
For Korean cuisine to acquire more recognition abroad, the main thing is to promote and fully publicize Korean dishes to foreign tourists who visit Korea. I heard that eight million foreign tourists came to Korea last year alone. Serving them delicious Korean food while giving top-notch service is the most basic way but, at the same time, it can become the biggest driving force for the globalization of Korean cuisine.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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