- Alongside K-pop and K-dramas, there is K-Food, Korean gastronomy.
- A cuisine highlighted by its overrepresentation in the entertainment industry and the promotional campaigns of the South Korean government.
Rue d'Antin, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. Bouchera taps on his phone while waiting for his dish. Then, under the scent of chili pepper and grilled meat emanating from the kitchen, a waitress walks towards her. She places on the table a bibimbap still crackling in her small heated stone pot. Rice, sautéed vegetables, beef, all with a fried egg... Bouchera came to get some of South Korea from Gatt. "What I like is the mix of flavor. It's both fresh and slightly spicy," says the 27-year-old.
Like her, many are seduced by hansik, Korean cuisine. If in France, the number of restaurants would be globally stable in the provinces - a few hundred - it would have doubled in the capital in the space of a few years. According to the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, a South Korean government organization, Paris now has 250, compared to 120 in 2018.
The promotion of films and series
This K-food participates in hallyu (the popularization of Korean culture) in the same way as cinema, music - K-pop - or series - K-dramas -. And these other pillars also promote it, Korean cuisine being strongly highlighted in the entertainment industry. "In all the series and movies, there are long scenes dedicated to meal time. We see Koreans either drinking [soju] or eating, and it makes you want to consume like them," explains Luna Kyung, author of Korea Gourmande (ed. Mango, November 2022).
Example with Parasite, awarded four times at the Oscars in 2020. In one scene, a mother mixes two types of instant noodles from the Nongshim brand. In the aftermath, the Korean firm, listed on the stock exchange, saw its ramen sales reach records across the Atlantic, with a 26.5% increase in sales in the United States, according to an article in the Korea Herald. And this is no coincidence. "It's a way for the entertainment industry to share this culture with the world. This involves the placement of cultural products, which are widely used in video clips and K-dramas," says Benjamin Joinau, an anthropologist and professor at Hongik University in South Korea.
This is evidenced by the series focused on Korean cuisine. In Business Proposal, which talks about an agri-food company dreaming of globalizing Korean kimchi and dumplings, the protagonists highlight, throughout the series, the products of the company Bibigo. The rom-com, broadcast internationally on Netflix, allowed the company to increase its profits by more than 3.5% over the year 2022, according to the parent company, CJ CheilJedang.
"Korean Cuisine to the World"
But the promotion of K-food is also a government matter. As early as 2008, then-Prime Minister Han Seung-so announced the "beginning of the globalization of Korean cuisine." The following year, Seoul launched the "Korean Cuisine to the World" campaign, with the goal of being in the top 5 cuisines in the world by 2017.
Lobbying has been set up on the ground, with courses offered in cooking schools and cultural centers, especially in Paris. Another initiative is food festivals. Since 2016, for example, the town hall of the 15th arrondissement has organized the Korea Expo every year, where culinary specialties are honored. "South Korea has developed its gastro-diplomacy to shine internationally. Totally unknown dishes, such as bulgogi, are beginning to gain popularity abroad and become markers of identity of the country, "says Benjamin Joinau.
The Chinese and Japanese Big Sisters
In the end, South Korea did not achieve the expected result; it ranked 19th in the TasteAtlas in 2022. But the progression is there. According to the Korea Food Promotion Institute, the number of Korean restaurants overseas increased from 10,000 to more than 33,000 between 2009 and 2018. With nearly 400 establishments worldwide, the Bonchon fried chicken brand bears witness to this rise.
Admittedly, K-food is still far from competing with its Chinese and Japanese neighbors. But it "will become an important cuisine, just like Peruvian cuisine, which is booming," concludes Benjamin Joinau.
- South Korea