What would be the most famous Korean dish in the world? Kimchi and Korean barbeque are perhaps the most well-known Korean dishes around the world, but the list could grow longer following plans to globally market the nation’s unique and healthy food. Several campaigns are being conducted at both the government and private level to promote “Hansik,” or Korean cuisine.
According to joint research conducted by AT (Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corp.) and the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the foremost step in globalizing Hansik, is to select, develop and customize Korean cuisine according to each country and its people’s characteristics, food culture and taste. This is important because every country has its own food culture, eating habits, ingredients, and method of cooking. Furthermore, these factors often differ within one country by region, ethnicity, race, sex, age, and level of income. Therefore, the focus of globalizing Hansik is to expand demand by developing customized dishes by country or region and utilize and support Korean food chefs and owners of Korean restaurants located in foreign countries by providing them with recipes for newly developed and customized cuisine.
The Korean government aims to increase the number of Korean restaurants in foreign countries to 40,000 by 2017 and make Hansik into one of the world’s favorite types of food by 2017. So how could Hansik grab global attention? Hansik’s strength is that it is perhaps one of the healthiest types of food in the world and that it is particularly good for those watching their weight. Hansik experts believe that Hansik’s biggest charm is that most of its ingredients are vegetable based, therefore appealing to health-conscious gourmets. Meanwhile, in addition to promoting Hansik and its image as a healthy, diet food, it is essential to transmit the value and culture behind Hansik, which makes up a big part of Korean culture.
The Korean Culture and Information Service, under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, conducted a survey last year involving 116 industry experts, including those in charge of exports at food and dining companies, restaurant chefs at five-star hotels, food researchers, professors, reporters and food journalists. According to the survey, the first image they think of regarding Hansik is simply a few famous Korean foods such as Kimchi, Bulgogi and Bibimbap, rather than the cultural value behind it. These people listed healthy ingredients, vegetable-based diet dishes, taste, and various methods of cooking as strong points of Hansik. They also mentioned that it is important to promote Korean’s own sentiment and emotions, also known as “Jung,” which is used to describe Korean’s attachment and affection towards each other. Most of these people participated in the survey (96.9%) were positive that Hansik could play an important role in improving the nation’s brand value. The ways to utilize Hansik as a cultural icon is to place it in popular movies and TV shows, develop stories based on cooking and food culture, the establishment of a Korean food school and Korean food and culture experience museum, and develop Korean food tour programs.
Hansik has the potential to become one of the world’s most popular foods. The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries estimates the world food industry market to be worth 4,800 trillion won, with the American ethnic food market estimated to be approximately US$75 billion. Indeed, many foreign tourists list food as their No. 1 reason to visit Korea following shopping and sight seeing. According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Corea Image Communication Institute of Foreign Opinion Leaders, 49.2% said their main reason to visit Korea was to taste Korean food, while in another survey conducted by the Korean Tourism Organization, Korean food (other than Kimchi) topped tourists shopping lists with 36.6%, followed by fashion items (26%) and Kimchi (24.7%). Despite the great potential to grow and become more popular world-wide, the Korean government has been slow to take advantage of this opportunity to market Korean food. It is not uncommon to see long lines of customers outside chic sushi or Thai restaurants in metropolitan cities in the U.S. or Europe. With the right promotion and marketing, Korean food has the potential to become both chic and healthy in the global market.