|A chef cooks before reporters and spectators at a booth set up by the Korean Food Foundation during the 2017 Madrid Fusion Food Festival in Spain, Jan. 24. The foundation, affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, took part in the global food fair to showcase a variety of Korean dishes using fermented soybean paste and other homegrown ingredients. / Courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs|
By Lee Hyo-sik
Korea's efforts to make Korean food a favorite of diners across the world is proceeding as planned, as more and more people from other countries became fans of kimchi, bulgogi and other local dishes.
The government has spent tens of millions of dollars over the years to promote Korean food, branded as "hansik," by paying TV broadcasters in Europe and the United States to air documentaries about various Korean dishes to increase awareness among Westerners. Newspapers and magazines also regularly carry stories about what Koreans eat.
Various state agencies have been offering cooking classes at overseas cultural centers, increasing the popularity of the nation's food among people from all over the world.
They also provided assistance to restaurants with Korean cuisine on their menus through financial and other support to help them develop dishes and upgrade services, and consequently attract more diners.
In addition, "hallyu," the Korean cultural wave, and a surge in foreign visitors to Korea have helped promote Korean food.
The globalization effort began in 2009 under the former Lee Myung-bak administration as a project of first lady Kim Yoon-ok, but lost steam under former President Park Geun-hye.
But the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and other state agencies are determined to reignite the globalization campaign to help improve Korea's brand image abroad and bolster outbound shipments of domestic agricultural and fisheries products.
"After mobilizing all possible resources to promote Korean food over the years, we have achieved tangible results that more people from other nations are becoming aware and fond of local dishes," said Lee Chang-il, deputy director of the agriculture ministry's food industry promotion division.
According to a recent ministry survey, about 64.3 percent of New Yorkers were aware of Korean food in 2016, up from 24.2 percent in 2011.
Besides Korean restaurants abroad, such as Danji in New York, a growing number of local restaurant franchises have made inroads into foreign markets in recent years, riding on the increasing popularity of Korean food. A total of 73 franchises operated 732 restaurants overseas in 2016, up from 234 restaurants by 41 chains in 2012, the ministry said.
For instance, CJ Foodville, one of the country's largest food companies, has been opening restaurants in the U.S., China and Singapore. One of the firm's brands, Bibigo, serves bibimbap, or rice with a mixture of vegetables and meat, and bulgogi, or sliced and seasoned barbecued beef, among others.
In addition, a growing number of Korean restaurants awarded with Michelin stars have helped improve Korea's image among foreign diners. So far, a total of 14 restaurants here, such as Gaon and La Yeon serving a variety of Korean dishes, have been awarded with the stars.
|Agriculture Vice Minister Lee Jun-won, right, holds a bottle of Irish wine with Paschal Donohoe, Ireland's minister for public expenditure and reform, during the Ireland-Korea Cuisine and Cultural Exchange at the Korean Food Cultural Center in Seoul, March 14. The event was organized by the agriculture ministry and the Korean Food Foundation to promote cuisine from both countries. / Courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs|
To further promote Korean food, the government set up the Korean Cuisine Cultural Center in Seoul last year and similar facilities abroad where foreigners can sample Korean dishes and learn how to cook them.
In 2016, a pan-government taskforce was also formed to have Korean food designated on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list, as well as introducing universal recipes for bulgogi and other widely known dishes so foreign chiefs and consumers can more easily prepare Korean food.
The agriculture ministry and other state bodies held or took part in a dozen food fairs and other events abroad, and had broadcasters in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and elsewhere air a documentary series featuring kimchi and other Korean dishes in the context of the nation's culture and nature.
"There is no question that it is a time-consuming process to make Korean food one of the favorites among international diners. So Korea should give its campaign to globalize its food more time to succeed," the deputy director said. "Nonetheless, the government will not remain complacent with what it has achieved so far. We will continue to engage in a wide array of activities aimed at globalizing Korean food."
From now on, the agriculture ministry will play a largely supporting role in the hansik globalization campaign, Lee said, adding that it will not tell private entities what to do.
"The government will do what the private sector cannot do and encourage market players to get things done on their own," he said. "Korea needs to make concerted efforts to promote its cuisine abroad. The government will create an environment where all related organizations can better coordinate their efforts."
This article is sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.