At a cozy restaurant in the multicultural district of Itaewon, Eid serves one of its staple dishes ― bibimbap, a bowl of rice mixed with red chili paste and a variety of vegetables.
It is accompanied by side dishes of kimchi, stir-fried anchovies, salad and cabbage soup.
The food may look like any other served at Korean restaurants nationwide. But it’s not.
Eid cooks its meals, including samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), bulgogi (marinated beef) and grilled fish, with ingredients and techniques in accordance with the Islamic law, or halal.
Eid is just one of five restaurants in Korea that has been halal-certified by the Korean Muslim Federation, and the only one serving Korean cuisine.
“I wanted to help Muslims traveling in Korea to get a taste of Korean cuisine without worrying about halal,” Eid CEO Yu Hyun-woo said in an interview.
Eid CEO Yu Hyun-woo. (Won Ho-jung/The Korea Herald)
Halal is the local food industry’s menu du jour amid the public’s increasing interest in Muslim culture following stronger relations with the Middle East.
The restaurant, which seats up to 24 people, only makes the four dishes because halal sets the bar high for careful management of the food preparation process.
All meats must be blessed and slaughtered following particular procedures.
All food must be free of pollution from anything considered “haram,” or impermissible.
For restaurants to be halal, the owner and chef must both be Muslim.
All things considered, it was not easy for Yu to prepare for the opening of his restaurant for Muslims and non-Muslims.
“The hardest thing for us at first was finding gochujang (red chili paste) and doenjang (soybean paste) that was halal,” Yu said with a small bowl of bright red paste.
“Most brands use alcohol to speed fermentation, so we had to go out and find pastes that were naturally fermented. This gochujang is light and sweet, flavored with pears.”
Korean dishes like samgyetang and bulgogi presented a different challenge.
“Samgyetang is supposed to use a whole, young chicken, but we couldn’t find any halal young chickens. What we ended up doing was using just half of bigger halal chickens,” he said.
It was also impossible to find halal sliced beef to make bulgogi.
So, the workers spend hours slicing blocks of halal beef themselves.
“Halal becomes much more accessible when people think of it as a quality certification like the HACCP, rather than a type of cuisine,” said Yu.
The five halal-certified restaurants in Korea are: Salam, Kervan, Mr. Kebab and Eid in Itaewon, and Dongmun on Nami Island in Chuncheon.
By Won Ho-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)