This is a food trend report prepared by O'ngo Food Communications and KoCTA (The Korea Culinary Tourism Organization. Even though Korean food is gaining popularity all over the world, it is not trending in Korea. There are aspects of Korean food that are gaining popularity, but for different reasons than in other parts of the world.
*Disclaimer these are our opinions on food and we are looking at this issue from the idea of the whole country and it is not solely expat focused. Seoul has a 10.5 million Korean people and only 250,000 foreigners. The opinion of the masses can make or break restaurants here.*
A Look Back at 2011
South Korea is always changing and it is quite interesting to see the new food trends that pop-up and die so quickly here. In 2008, there was Roti Buns and Pappa Roti that spread like fleas during the black death (I know...not the most appetizing analogy). During that year and the next, these shops were on every corner and they thought they had the right formula for success in Korea.• Hot and Homemade • Not too sweet and fluffy and doughy • Easily packaged so they can be shared with everyone at the office.These buns were like Korean traditional rice cake in a way. The problem was that they franchised too fast so people's fascination with the bun was too easily sated. Also, once the buns cooled, they became a bit oily and a bit soggy- ultimately, something that was not endearing when you gave it to your dear mum and dad.
Cupcakes have tried several times, but never really took off. These small cakes that are not easily shared and often the icings are too sweet for Koreans. The only places these shops tend to work seems to be in areas where many of the guests have traveled or lived overseas such as in Itaewon and Garusugil.2011 was supposed to be the year of the taco. Taco Bell did their big launch in the expat district of Itaewon. They had made claims of having 50 franchises by the year's end, but my research shows that there are only 10 or so restaurants now open so far. From what I have seen the stores in Itaewon and in Hongdae seem to be quite busy. While I was over at D-Cube City (Sindorim's new shopping complex), the stand-alone store was almost empty on a busy Saturday afternoon. Tomatillo taco has started franchising as well and I have seen new restaurants sprouting up here and there.
They do California-Tex style Mexican food. Their emphasis on fresh ingredients and use of rice seems to make this a good lunch spot for casual diners. While other's have tried to capitalize on the Mexi-Korean taco trend that was happening in America, the idea of bulgogi tacos and kimchi fajitas seemed too "fusion" and second-hand so this never really became a trend. The new Vato's Taco that just opened in Itaewon is the only new establishment that seems hip enough to make Korean tacos cool. We'll see how they'll do in 2012.
2011 was the year of the pie. Tartine's sweet pies have been popular for years and they have just opened a new larger space across from their old shop. Other shops like Retrona Pie has also done well in the extremely competitive Samcheongdong area. Jester Pies has been setting up franchises all around Seoul and Bundang and it looks like this is one trend that will stick around for 2012. The pies have the right formula to be successful.
- They are not too small
- They travel easily
- They are hot
- The crust is not too greasy
- The fillings are diverse and filling (starch on starch seems to work in Korea)
- They are savory (Koreans can eat very sweet, but only a little of it)
- They can be boxed to take and share with friends and family (Korean restaurants love take-out because the guests won't take up room in their restaurants. Also patrons don't tip in Korea.)
According to my Aussie friends, they tell me that the pies are not like those in Australia. For those looking for something authentic, I recommend the Aussie Shop. This was the place that I tried these pies in Seoul. Sadly, this restaurant didn't capitalize on the opportunity. However, it could try to ramp up production and see if they can get Korean patrons to come try a pie made by a real Aussie.
Here are some of our food trend predictions for 2012.
You can download the rest of the report here: