An illustration in last week's edition of Moscow listings paper Okruga shows two characters sitting in front of a kebab stall but reading a Korean menu. The accompanying article puts the question: what healthy alternatives are there to fast food? The answer is Korean food.
Major downtown discount outlets including Ramstore and Auchan have opened Korean salad kiosks that sell Russian-style kimchi -- cabbage, carrot and garlic seasoned with salt, sugar and vinegar but not fermented like Korean kimchi. A salesperson says 20 barrels of 1 ㎏ each are sold a day, and all to Russian customers. He said the real spicy Korean kimchi is too hot for Russians, so Korean kimchi makers there adapted the vegetable dish to local tastes. He said sales are growing as kimchi is known to be healthy. Cooking programs on stated-owned Channel Russia and public network NTV often feature instructions on how to make kimchi and the beef dish bulgogi.
The 18 Korean restaurants in Moscow are also doing well with a growing number of Russian customers. The owner of one restaurant says the number grew noticeably since last year, and in some months he makes more from Russians than from Korean tourists and expats. Milla Gladkaya, a banker (32), says she even buys kimchi from the restaurant to eat at home. She says Korean food is mostly low fat and apparently prevents obesity.
It's not cheap. Even a simple lunch costs 299 rubles (W12,600, US$1=W1,030), far more than the 199 rubles or W8,400 a Russian or Western meal costs on average. But the interest in Korean cuisine continues to rise, thanks to fatter pockets of Russians from the inflow of oil money and wage hikes. It is also regarded as sophisticated to eat food with chopsticks.
Russian interest in Korean food is at the incipient stage. One analyst at a Russian investment consulting firm Renaissance Capital says, "It's true Korean food is healthy, but its popularity is partly due to Japanese sushi, which has been seen as healthy food since 2000". As of late May, there were an estimated 300 Japanese restaurants in downtown Moscow alone.