June 25, 2024

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Korean food is making an ascent in the ever-evolving international culinary scene with its rich flavors and distinctive dishes, mirroring the broader appeal of Korean culture. K-food is transitioning from being exclusively the preserve of Koreans to becoming a global phenomenon, especially captivating the tastebuds of younger generations around the world.

The recent spotlight on Busan by the Michelin Guide, marking its debut underscores the international culinary community’s recognition of K-food. The southeastern port city received a notable nod of approval from the Michelin Guide, with three One Star restaurants and 15 of its restaurants earning Bib Gourmand honors.

Special attention was given to eateries specializing in “dwaeji gukbap,” or pork and rice soup, a staple of Busan’s culinary identity. The Michelin Guide’s acknowledgment of Busan’s delicacies, such as dwaeji gukbap and “naengmyeon,” or cold buckwheat noodles, highlights the city’s rich culinary landscape shaped by its bustling port and fresh ingredients.

Adding to this culinary acclaim, a New York branch of Korean restaurant Okdongshik, garnered a spot in The New York Times’ “8 Best Dishes in New York City” in 2023. The restaurant received acclaim for its “pork gomtang,” pork bone soup, a classic dish presented in gukbap style with rice simmered directly into the hearty soup.

The New York Times described pork gomtang as a “golden pork broth, sliced pork and white rice” and praised it stating, “This is a soup that you can savor every day, and it becomes especially comforting on the day you receive unwelcome news. Consuming it is an instant mood-lifter.”

This dish underscores the growing appetite for Korean cuisine beyond its borders, illustrating how traditional Korean dishes are being appreciated and savored by an international audience.

This recognition is not an isolated incident but part of a broader wave of K-food’s increasing popularity worldwide. Backed by hallyu, or the Korean wave, this global phenomenon of Korean cultural exports varies from music and dramas to beauty products and, recently, food.

Hallyu has paved the way to help introduce Korean cuisine to the world, making dishes like kimchi, “bulgogi,” marinated slices of meat and “bibimbap,” a Korean rice dish, household names in many countries.

The ripple effect of Korean dramas, movies and social media has extended this culinary curiosity to include more Korean dishes such as “tteokbokki,” a spicy rice cake dish, “mandu,” Korean dumplings, ramyeon, or instant noodle and Korean fried chicken.

The influence of Korean culture, amplified by celebrities and social media, has significantly boosted international interest in Korean cuisine, driving demand and curiosity for authentic Korean food experiences.

For instance, when K-pop idols eat tteokbokki during live broadcasts or mention tteokbokki as their favorite food, it instantly spikes global curiosity and demand for this Korean dish.

A survey by the Seoul Tourism Organization in 2023 revealed that the allure of delicious Korean food was a major draw for tourists returning to Seoul, with 75.9 percent citing it as their primary reason for revisiting.

The surge in popularity of Korean food is also reflected in the surge of its exports. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the amount of K-food exports in 2023 exceeded 16 trillion won ($12.1 billion), up 2.6 percent from the previous year.

The demand for Korean fried chicken, kimchi and ramyeon, in particular, has seen an uptick, showcasing the global palate’s growing affinity for Korean flavors.

The outlook for Korean cuisine’s presence on the global culinary scene is not only promising but also bound to expand further. To sustain and amplify this growth, adopting a multifaceted strategy that leverages hallyu along with digital technology, is key to engaging broader audiences.

The efforts to globalize Korean cuisine include initiatives such as social media challenges featuring Korean dishes to Korean cooking shows on international streaming services.

Moreover, there’s an opportunity for Korean culinary diplomacy, where food becomes a medium to foster cultural exchanges and understanding. Initiatives could include global Korean cooking competitions, collaborative pop-ups with international chefs and scholarships for aspiring chefs to study Korea’s culinary arts.


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