The advocates of "hansik", or Korean cuisine, this year saw the debut of an ambitious promotion scheme. Some might be content with the results, others not, but some headway appears to have been made in the world's recognition of the food, despite the fact the promotion also left something to be desired. The Korea Times has selected the top five news stories of the year in regards to Korean cuisine.
1. Makgeolli Popular at Home, Abroad
"Makgeolli", a traditional Korean rice wine, was no doubt the biggest hit among Korean food and beverages this year, both at home and abroad.
Long regarded as a cheap, rustic drink, makgeolli has transformed its image into an alternative to beer and wine, and has benefitted from government campaigns this year to refine its appeal to modern consumers.
From airlines to fancy urban-style downtown restaurants, many places have started to serve the sweet, milk-colored drink. Meanwhile, in a surprised reversal, wine saw its imports plunge by nearly 30 percent for the first time in a decade or so.
Makgeolli exports have grown by an average 29.2 percent each year over the past five years, with exports totaling $4.4 million last year. Over 90 percent of exported makgeolli is heading toward the Japanese market, but the destinations now have diversified to 18 countries.
The soaring exportation of makgeolli is mainly attributable to the ever-rising demand in Japan, with exports there are expected to reach $4 million by the end of this year. Makgeolli exports to Japan currently trail only those of soju, thanks to its growing popularity driven by Japanese twenty- and thirty-somethings.
On the back of this popularity, variations from its original style are also being introduced using ingredients such as soybeans, barley and additions including fruit.
2. Hansik Meets Entertainment
Following a string of contests and exhibitions, the promotion of Korean food has extended its reach to find a new medium ― television dramas and entertainment programs.
The trend traces back to when the television drama "Jewel in the Palace" ("Dae Jang Geum
") became a mega hit in many countries. Unexpectedly, the sizzling popularity of the food-themed show caused some fans of the Korean wave, or "hallyu", to become interested in Korean food.
Last year, another drama, "Gourmet"
, ventured into the theme of cooking by traveling around the nation looking for the best ingredients and recipes, telling the story of a rivalry between two hansik chefs.
This year, acclaimed chef Edward Kwon
hosted and judged a reality cooking competition show called "Yes Chef".
Last month saw episodes of MBC's signature weekly show, "Infinite Challenge" ("Muhan Dojeon"), feature young and promising hansik chefs with the theme of food globalization. The program flew to New York with the mission of creating their own dishes with kimchi to better appeal to the tastes of Americans.
In October, a stage show premiered to promote "bibimbap", or rice mixed with vegetables, meat and chili sauce.
Titled "Bibap Korea", the performance depicts the story of eight young cooks initiated into the secrets of cooking bibimbap from a master chef. The show features beats created by using various cooking utensils as instruments, with break dance routines, beat-boxing and acrobatic moves spicing things up.
3. Foundation to Be Launched to Promote Homegrown Cuisine
In an exclusive interview with The Korea Times in October, Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chang Tae-pyong said a private foundation will be established this year as part of the country's campaign to promote its cuisine, but the plan appears to have been delayed until next year.
A range of experts, from professors and entrepreneurs to government officials, will join forces for a drive to globalize hansik, Chang said.
The foundation will be in charge of charting strategies and implementing programs to make Korean cuisine popular worldwide. From next year, a more concrete campaign will start, including the commercialization of Korean foods and helping local firms and restaurants advance overseas.
This year was like a preparatory period for the promotion of Korean food, and the campaign progressed in a generally satisfactory manner, as foreigners have begun to appreciate the uniqueness of the local cuisine, according to the minister.
4. Standardized English Menus Introduced
When it comes to hansik, the lack of an organized system of describing its dishes, as well as a standardized system of Romanizing them, confuse foreigners the most.
Local Korean restaurants currently use different English translations for the dishes they serve.
To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries released in November a finalized edition of English translations of popular hansik dishes in a bid to streamline and better promote Korea's traditional fare.
The list includes the names and descriptions of a total of 124 dishes, and simple translated recipes for the convenience of owners and foreign customers of Korean restaurants at home and abroad.
The project, which was conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the Korea Tourism Organization; and the Korea Foundation, involved consultation with experts over Romanization issues at the National Institute of the Korean Language and the participation of other food and language specialists.
The translations will be published in booklets and supplied to local and overseas Korean restaurants. It will also be offered as an e-book file on the government's official food information Web site (Open the link
Makers of the booklet also expect that future lists will be expanded to include more dishes and be translated into more foreign languages.
5. Food Industry to Be Nurtured
In November, an ambitious plan was unveiled to nurture Korea's food industry with the injection of 5 trillion won ($4.3 billion) over the next three years.
According to the plan, overall sales of Korea's food industry, currently around 100 trillion won in total, will grow 7 percent annually until 2012. Exports of farming and fisheries products are also expected to jump to $10 billion by then, from the current $3.8 billion.
Six traditional condiments and fermented foodstuffs will be promoted to strengthen their position in the global market. In addition, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says it will establish a new institute for kimchi and continue efforts to standardize three Korean food items: Korean chili sauce (gochujang), bean paste (doenjang) and ginseng.
Globally, the food industry has reached $4 trillion overall and is bigger than the auto and information technology industries. Growing interest in the cuisine and increased health consciousness around the world shows that the prospects are good for more growth in the industry.
Korea's food businesses, however, are not mature enough to compete globally: of its 8,500 food makers, more than 90 percent have less than 50 employees.
The average annual sales of Korean restaurants here come to some 93 million won ($79,900), lagging behind those in Japan ($361,092) and the United States ($511,000).
Only eight local makers post annual sales of over 1 trillion won. Korea's exports of processed food amounted to $1.9 billion last year, with some 40 countries ahead of it.