There is more to Korean food than kimchi

by Agence-France Presse AFP, Nov 7, 2008 | Destinations: Korea, S / Seoul

SEOUL, October 19, 2008 - Riding the wave of Korean pop culture that swept Asia and other parts of the world, South Korea has launched a campaign to promote its national cuisine abroad.

The agriculture ministry and the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corp say they aim to quadruple the number of Korean restaurants worldwide to 40,000 by 2017 under a project to "globalise" Korean food.

Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo said pop culture, especially a popular TV series called "Dae Jang Geum," had provided a rare opportunity to enhance international awareness of the cuisine.

The series, based on the first female royal physician some 500 years ago, introduced Korean traditional culture and royal cuisine to an international audience.

"The globalisation of Korean food will help increase the exports of Korean agriculture and fisheries products and provide a new momentum for economic growth," Han said Thursday at the start of an expo which wound up Sunday.

The agriculture ministry plans to spend 55 billion won (40 million dollars) over the next two years to try to make Korean food as famous as French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai food.

The project includes the establishment of Korean culinary schools abroad, development and propagation of standard recipes and the introduction of an official ratings system for overseas Korean restaurants.

The government will provide cheap loans to top local restaurants which want to open overseas branches.

"I think Korean cuisine can have an international appeal but its image is a bit confusing now," said Charles Cointreau, vice president of Le Cordon Bleu Asia, a French culinary academy.

"Not so many people actually know what Korean food is so I think they are definitely on the right track," he told AFP at the expo.

"I think Korean food has strong potential but Korea has to exploit more of its vast heritage in its cuisine," he said, noting different regions have different dishes, just as with France.

Cointreau's favourites include bibimbap -- warm steamed rice topped with sauteed vegetables, chilli sauce and an egg -- and various Korean noodles.

Bernhard Brender, general manager of the Grand Hilton, said he is a great fan of Korean food, especially kori gomtang (ox-tail broth).

"I like it. Ingredients are really healthy -- Korea has the best garlic and ginseng in the world -- and the combination is made fresh," he said.

Valerii Aleksandruk, Ukraine's deputy head of mission in Seoul, said it was time to show the world that Korea has more than just kimchi -- fermented vegetable laced with chilli and various seasonings.

"I think kimchi is already globalised so it's time to introduce some more Korean food to the world," he said.

Despite its strong smell and off-putting colour, kimchi is a Korean icon with its own museum in Seoul. A specially engineered version blasted into space with the country's first astronaut this year.

"Kimchi has a certain aroma but it's like the case with the durian in Indonesia. Its smell is horrible but its taste is fantastic," said Brender.

"There are about 36 different ingredients. It's good for your stomach, kidney and diabetes. It's one of the most healthy dishes in the world."

Asked if it should be modified for international palates, Brender strongly disagreed. "Never, ever change the authentic recipes, just promote them," he said.

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