I first started getting into Korean food a good few years ago when I started going back every year to visit my parents in Philippines, a country where Korean food and culture has exploded. Over the last year or so, the popularity of Korean food has escalated here in the UK. There are now an increasing amount of pop up restaurants and stalls dedicated to Korean BBQ and Korean fusion, Busan BBQ and Choi Boys are just a couple of great vendors bringing Korean food into the fold. Gone are the days where I have to travel to New Malden or go to Tottenham Court Road to get good Bulgogi (Marinaded thin strips of beef that are barbecued); Dolsot Bibimbap (rice with vegetables, raw beef and topped with an egg yolk served in a hot, stone bowl) and Pajeon (seafood pancake).
Korea Foods is food distributor helping to pioneer the Korean revolution and was established over a decade ago in New Malden where, outside Korea, has the largest population of Korean people. The company distributes all over the UK and Europe and is now getting products into the shelves of Tesco, Asda and Morrisons.
At this year’s Taste of London, Korea Foods raised their profile with even more stalls exhibiting more cooking products and food. Not only did I have the opportunity to eat and buy lots of Korean ingredients
— The Hungry Cat (@TheHungryCatCat) June 20, 2014
I also spoke to Dan Suh, Managing Director of Korea Foods. He gave me his thoughts on why Korean food and flavours has suddenly burst its way onto the culinary scene.
To a Korean food virgin, how do you describe Korean food?
Korean food is hearty and wholesome, with plenty of new and impactful flavours that set it aside from Chinese or Japanese food. Korean food is so diverse and is generally healthy, as a lot of Korean food relies on fermentation, so it is actually “slow food”.
Why do you think the Korean Food trend has suddenly exploded within the last couple of years?
It’s a combination of factors. Korean restaurants have existed in London for some 30 years, but never reached out to the UK population, instead, focussing on customers who are already aware of Korean food, such as Korean and Japanese businessmen. Some restaurant critics then became mildly aware of Korean food, but with no movement behind the Korean food scene, no-one could lead the charge. Back in 2012, I re-joined Korea Foods Company, and assessed the potential of Korean food within the mainstream market. With restaurants still not marketing themselves outwardly, I would say that there have been a number of factors that have come together to get the Korean food scene moving, but more importantly, make it relevant to British consumers. The Korean street food traders, have, undoubtedly, been one of the key factors, as they appeal to youth culture and have made Korean food much more friendly, especially through Social Media channels. The emergence of a different type of Korean restaurant, such as Kimchee and Bibigo, appealing much more to non-Koreans. The chefs who have discovered Korean ingredients to influence their recipes. And ourselves at Korea Foods, who have spent the last couple of years educating the public and driving new products into retail, making Korean food products more accessible.
Korean Belly is a portal for all things to do with Korean food. It is an ecosystem of Korean food, where contributors can help shout about Korean food to the world! The idea will be to get people to “feed the belly” with reviews, articles, recipes, and just about anything to do with Korean food. We realise that contributors will be two-fold. Those who already carry authority, such as chefs, bloggers, and similar. And then the general public, who may well be able to attain a level of authority through using Korean Belly. The point of this is to give people one single place to find out everything about the Korean food scene to give it a chance to grow.
Chefs such as Gizzi Erskine are really involved with Korean Food; it’s a fantastic way of showcasing Korean fusion. How did Korea Foods get Gizzi and other celebrity chefs involved?
Gizzi’s interest in Korean food started before we had been in contact, so it’s been a case of us keeping a very close eye on the scene to see which chefs have taken any interest in Korean food, before we engage with them and work out ways in which we can help them to promote Korean food. As chefs tend to know each other, with more and more chefs talking about Korean flavours, we hope that others will then become interested and start spreading the word about Korean flavours! This is how Carl Clarke became influenced, as he is very good friends with Gizzi. Neil Rankin, on the other hand, actually used to live in New Malden, so became aware of Korean food because of where he lived. Stevie Parle was invited to Korea, so became familiar with Korean ingredients as a result. Steven Wallis was actually a tenant in one of our Chairman’s properties, and started to become aware of Korean flavours then. Jordan Bourke happens to be married to a Korean. Finally, Judy Joo happens to be Korean!!! So, we provide any support for these chefs and are starting to engage with others as chefs become more aware of the Korean food scene.
Are there any other events in the food calendar for Korea Foods over the next 12months?
Maybe not so much events, as Taste of London was a massive event for us, but we will continue to support the Korean street food traders, whilst we are continually working on other projects that will raise the profile of Korean food.
Finally, where can I find the best Korean in London?
For me, it’s Jingo-Gae Restaurant, on Burlington Road, New Malden. The charcoal grill is amazing and the closest Korean experience I’ve found in the UK. It might be a bit out of the way, but the food is simply too good to miss.
Thanks to Dan Suh for talking to LDN Life (and also giving me some free Korean snacks and drinks at Taste of London!). I look forward to visiting Jingo-Gae and seeing the development of the Korean food scene. I hope that other under-the-radar cuisines can take note from the Korean food trend to drive forward their food and culture in the same way. I shall wait hungrily with great anticipation to see which worldly cuisine lands on our plate!
Do you have a favourite Korean food, restaurant or Pop Up? Tell us in the comments below…