Specialty foods that normally belong on restaurant menus are being catered to leading hospitals in South Korea as the country's medical community serves a growing number of patients from the Middle East.
Records from the Health and Welfare Ministry and medical institutions on Friday showed steady increases in patients from Middle East countries. Last year, some 3,000 people from the United Arab Emirates received care from South Korean hospitals.
Patients from the region need food and drinks that are allowed and prepared according to Islamic law, known as halal, and local hospitals say they are meeting their needs through special efforts.
Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul said it has developed 22 new menu items ranging from soups and appetizers to salads and main dishes through a special task force that began work in May last year. Hospital officials said staff members went on business trips to buy cooking materials and ingredients needed for halal foods that were not available locally.
"There were many things that weren't being imported into the country. Hospital staff had to go abroad to buy them, and sometimes, former patients or their guardians would send them to us," said Seo Soo-ryang, who was on the task force.
"Just as different regions in South Korea have different food tastes, patients have personal preferences in halal foods," she said. "We need assistance to be able to solve the limits in the availability of ingredients."
Severance Hospital said it is extra careful about making sure that ingredients they use in halal foods strictly meet the requirements.
"Foods that are sold in individual packages after being brought into the country in bulk, like lamb meat, do not have separate labels," an official on the hospital's nutrition team said. "What we do is photograph the label and other information on the food sources that are on the box."
Samsung Medical Center is attentive to Islamic events, such as Ramadan, when eating is banned from sunrise to sunset. Hospital officials said they provide special dinner menus during the period and increase the portions.
"Middle East patients are careful about not just Ramadan but also praying hours and contact with women," said Lee Sang-chul, head of the hospital's international health services. "We pay a lot of attention to nonmedical services as well." (Yonhap)