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[Editorial] Globalizing Korean food

Watching ethnic restaurants spring up across Seoul and other large cities, Koreans have wondered why the country has been so unsuccessful to propagate Korean cuisines worldwide. Why do Korean restaurants overseas still cater almost exclusively to Korean travelers while other products from the country are so well accepted in the global market?

So, the government established the Korean Food Globalization Foundation early this year with ambitious plans to develop globally enjoyable menus and support restaurant businesses that endeavor to promote “Hansik” overseas. A former agriculture minister was appointed as its president and First Lady Kim Yoon-ok accepted its post of honorary chair. The National Assembly had generously endorsed the appropriation of 23.9 billion won for “Korean food globalization” projects.

Yet, it seems that the going is tough in the new government venture. The foundation’s plan to invest some 5 billion won ($4.4 million) to open a flagship Korean restaurant in Manhattan is facing complaints from the owners of other Korean restaurants in New York fearing the sharing of their limited customers. They rather wish that the Seoul government support the existing businesses through the supply of fresh, high-quality materials and promotional events.

In the parliamentary inspection of the administration, an opposition lawmaker criticized the project to publish a sleek bilingual (Korean and English) cookbook authored by the first lady for distribution mainly to foreign guests coming to Seoul for the G20 summit in November. Rep. Lew Keun-chan said the cookbook would publicize the first lady rather than the Korean cuisine.

Difficulties must have been expected from the start, not least because there are too many “experts” as far as Korean foods are concerned. The staff at the foundation should not be discouraged, as we believe that certain pilot restaurants with “upgraded” menus can enhance the general image of Korean food overseas. Yet, we would advise the foundation leaders that opening a well-designed Internet website with colorful pictures of the large variety of Hansik is as urgent a task as the publishing of the first lady’s cookbook.