SOUTHEAST ASIAN cuisine generally consists of rice, noodles, cooked vegetables, and meat seasoned with punchy and addictive spices and sauces. Recently, the cuisine has grown increasingly popular in the Korean market. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation, Southeast Asian restaurants achieved the highest revenue among all other international restaurants in the second quarter of 2017 in Korea. They even surpassed Japanese and Chinese restaurants, which reached just over 70 business index points* compared to 83.22 points of Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian restaurants.
Southeast Asian Cuisine Mania
Recently, there have been numerous food festivals and fairs in Seoul, in which Southeast Asian cuisines were exhibited for Korean customers. On June 2017, Homeplus, a leading supermarket in Korea, launched a World Noodle Festival and introduced some of their finest Southeast Asian instant noodles to Korean customers. The products included “Real Thai Rice Stick” from Thailand and “Mie Goreng” from Indonesia. In the same month, the ASEAN Food Festival was held in the Samsung Coex, where eminent chefs from many Southeast Asian countries cooked their respective countries’ main dishes and served them to attendees. Aware of the current Southeast Asian cuisine fever in the country, some Korean food brands have released their own Southeast Asian sauces or instant food products in the hopes of increasing their sales.
Consumption of Southeast Asian spices and condiments have also risen. In fact, the sales of Southeast Asian spices, sauces, and other ingredients increased by 262% and 66% respectively in Gmarket and Auction, the two largest Korean online shopping sites, from the previous year.
Kim Do-yeon (Soph., Dept of Business Administration), who lives apart from his family, said he frequently cooks Southeast Asian foods at home as he finds Southeast Asian ingredients easily accessible in supermarkets nearby his apartment. “Nowadays, I can easily purchase a variety of Southeast Asian ingredients such as Vietnamese-style sauces, rice noodles, rice papers, and Indonesian instant noodles in local markets. Most significantly, when I use these ingredients for my cooking, it is very tasty. So I became a steady buyer of these ingredients these days,” he said.
Reasons behind the boom
Experts have given several reasons behind the rise in popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine. According to YTN Hwang Yoo-jin, (Marketing manager, Chungjungwon), the increase in the number of Korean tourists to Southeast Asian countries is partly behind this growing food trend. In fact, Mode Tour, one of Korea’s leading tourist agencies, revealed that the number of Korean tourists who traveled to Southeast Asia this July to August increased by 60% from the same period last year.
Another factor behind Southeast Asian cuisine’s increasing popularity may be Korea’s changing weather. According to Arirang News, Cha Yoon-hwang (Prof., Dept. of Foods & Nutrition, Soongeui Women’s College) explained that nowadays, Korea is very humid and hot which is very much alike to Southeast Asia’s weather. Professor Cha claimed that Southeast Asian foods are favorable foods to be cooked and eaten during this sort of weather. “Generally, Southeast Asia’s spices have an abundant amount of antimicrobial components that prevents food from rotting. In addition, they cease lipogenesis processes in our bodies, which help prevent obesity. Hence, Southeast Asian cuisine is a very adequate and a popular food for customers during the summer period,” he said.
Hwang Ji-young (Sr., Dept. of Library & Info. Science.), a big fan of Thai food, believes that Southeast Asian cuisine was able to gain huge popularity because it has more flavors than Korean food. For example, she loved the sour and sweet taste in Thai food, which cannot be found in any Korean dishes. “The usage of herbs is also very different to that of Korean foods. Thai food has a wide variety of dishes, each with such beautiful flavors, that it's hard not to become addicted,” she said.
Earlier in March, Kim Jae-soo, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, held a conference with ambassadors of nine leading Southeast Asian countries. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the current situation of trade in food and agricultural products and consider ways to improve it. As Korea and Southeast Asian countries continue to show their commitment as collaborative trade partners in the agricultural and food sector, this will only keep increasing the demand for Southeast foods in the country.
According to Arirang News, the number of Koreans who visit Southeast Asia countries will only increase in the future, which will sustain the popularity of Southeast Asia cuisine in our market today. The Korea Joongang Daily also said that Korea will actively work on exporting its cuisine to Southeast Asian countries, rather than solely receiving their cuisines. The Korean Food Foundation is currently constructing platforms where widespread exchanges of culinary ideas can be done between Korea and foreign countries. Hence, this culinary exchange will deepen the relationship between Southeast Asian countries and Korea which will have mutual benefits for both sides.
*Business index points: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation’s quarterly report on the Korea Restaurant Business Index (KRBI), the index points measure the performance of Korean restaurant businesses, taking into account the number of customers, price of ingredients, number of employees, and investment activities.