The way foreigners think of Hansik is different from Koreans 진짜 한식이 사는 법

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Photos by Angela Kim


A Korean restaurant ‘Dong E’ in Thailand

I grew up in New Jersey and thanks to the parents who love traveling I got to travel more than 20 countries including England, France, Italia, Swiss, America, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, Japan, China. Especially from last year, I have visited South East Asian countries like Thailand, Hong Kong, and Malaysia for marketing event for Korean cuisine.

As I was meeting many local people in each country I had visited, I realized that their idea of Korean food was quite different from ours. Korean’s idea of Korean food is traditional cuisine that shows our history while foreigners think of it is modern cuisine that Koreans enjoy on a daily basis.


A Korean restaurant ‘Dong E’ inside view

So Korean restaurants tend to get quite overwhelming with traditional roof tiles, waterwheels, Kimchi pots and staffs with Korean traditional costumes all under the purpose of teaching foreigners Korea’s entire culture in one place with its cuisine. However foreigners have already felt like they are experiencing Hansik by simply cooking meet on the grill at the table since they have met Korean culture through Korean TV shows.


A Korean restaurant ‘Dong E’ menu

When I ask my friends from other countries what they want to eat when they visit Korea, 10 out of 10 say Samgyupsal(pork), fried-chicken and rice cake with spicy sauce. Koreans always think that we need to treat them with fancier and more traditional dishes like Bibimbob, Jabchae, Bulgogi and so on. However Hanryu had started with Korean TV shows way before the food became more popular, they want to try something their favorite actor had on the show.


The vew of typical Korean restaurant’s BBQ table

Generally many Korean restaurants in other countries have more menu items(80 to 100 item on average) than usual since they have to satisfy both Korean and foreign customers, which makes you wonder whether you are in BBQ place or snack bar. The pictures above shows one Korean restaurant in Thailand. Orange lightings and traditional roof tiles create heavy atmosphere. Waterwheels, folding screens and Kimchi pots are always the first sight that welcomes customers. The menu is also very heavy with 90 food items.


Many foreigners likes Korean style BBQ right before their eyes

One research firm asked foreigners why they like Hansik and most of them said “it’s fun to make a vegetables wraps” “It looks healthy” and “because of unlimited side dish refills”. This is why people go crazy over Hansik. They are more than joyful and well satisfied to grill meat right before their eyes then place the meat on a lettuce after dipping it in sesame oil sauce then wrap it with rice or Kimchi. This is where they fall in love Hansik.


A Korean restaurant ‘Seorae Galmaegi’ in Hong Kong

One of the most impressive Korean restaurants I had visited in other country was Seorae Galmaegi in down town, Hong Kong. Seorae Galmaegi is now a franchise brand that successfully popularized Galmeagi(skirtmeat of pork) since its establishment in 2007 then opened more than 300 places within 2 years. With its popularity in Korea, from 2012 every restaurant they had opened in China, Hong Kong and so on has been a huge success ever since its opening. Now there are 200 to 300 teams on standby. In terms of restaurant in Shanghai, it makes monthly revenue of 200milion won.


A Korean restaurant ‘Seorae Galmaegi’ inside view

The restaurant I had visited was the same. 90% of the customers were local Hong Kong people, and the place was still busy at 10pm well past dinnertime. Considering other restaurant where 90% of the customers were travelling Koreans, this was an unbelievable popularity.


There is a wating announced list at Seorae Galmaegi in Hong Kong

What’s more surprising was because they had such a long waiting list, they had to set ‘90min’ time limit to rotate the tables. It was proving the theory of how table turnaround directs the restaurant revenue.

To be honest, the meat wasn’t the best meat in the world nor was it fancy. It wasn’t even using real charcoal so you couldn’t taste the smoked flavor on the meat. However listening to K-pop while cooking different types of meat and wrapping it with lettuce, as scraping eggs off of the grill was simply enticing locals’ heart.


A Korean restaurant Seorae Galmaeg’s popular menu, Galmaegsal(skirtmeat of pork)


In Seorae Galmaeg, you can eat ‘Steamed eggs’ on the hot grill with BBQ

As I have observed the Seorae Galmaegi Restaurant, I hope Koreans overseas don’t think too much about the menu under the purpose of delivering Korean culture. Go back to basic and study what Koreans like these days. Understand why the foreigners love Korean food so you can reflect that on more specialized menu. Create more ‘FUN and ‘Tasty’ cultural space.


In Seorae Galmaeg, you can eat ‘Steamed eggs’ on the hot grill with BBQ



yk kimContributor, Angela Kim

She is a food journalist of Digital Chosun Newspaper. In recent, she is working as a food director for restaurant business consulting. Also, she works as a member of Korea Tourism Organization’s Korea food team and appears on various media in Korea.

음식전문기자 출신인 김유경은 현재 외식업 컨설팅 푸드 디렉터로 활동하고 있다. 또한, 한국관광공사 및 해외 문화원과 연계해 해외에서 한식홍보를 하고 있으며, TV, 라디오 등 요리관련 프로그램에도 출연 중이다.


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