The craze for all things Korean doesn’t seem to be abating, writes Zuliantie Dzul
“I’M sure bibimbap is Hanson’s song!” exclaims Dan Paustian, a contestant on Masterchef US Season 7 during one of the show’s episodes. It was an utterance I’ve not been able to forget. I nearly choked on my drink.
Paustian had obviously mistaken bibimbap (Korean mixed rice dish) with Mmmbop, the catchy late 1990s’ song made popular by US pop trio, Hanson.
While Paustian and other contestants are clueless about the Korean dishes they had to prepare for the judges, it’s a totally different scene here. According to 11street, Malaysia’s latest one-stop online shopping mall, the interest for everything Korean, from dramas to pop music to cuisine, and food, in particular, continues to surge.
To cater to our taste for Korean cuisine, 11street recently reinforced its partnership with K Market, a subsidiary of KMT Trading, an importer and distributor of Korean products in Malaysia.
The demand for Korean food has doubled since last year, according to the research. Malaysians aged 26 to 35 contribute an average of 40 per cent of the total Korean food sale this year. On top of that, the recurring word among these searches on 11street is spicy, which goes to illustrate our love for spicy food.
Among the top five items commonly purchased by Malaysians are pepero, a cookie stick dipped in chocolate, ramyun, also known as instant noodles, kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables, toppoki, a soft rice cake and milkis, a popular carbonated beverage.
But this craze for Korean is not only limited to food and the interest is certainly not a recent phenomenon. The Hallyu wave (the phenomenon of Korean culture rolling over the world) has been crashing on our shores since Winter Sonata, the popular Korean drama, landed here in 2002. And the culture has been steadily seeping into the hearts of many Malaysians. Following that, a tsunami of Korean pop bands comprising pretty boys and girls with catchy tunes and dance moves made its way. Groups such as Exo, BigBang and Girls’ Generation captured the hearts of many.
This Korean wave took social media by storm as well. Nor Aimi Azmi, the founder of Malaysian KPOP Fans Facebook page, set up the group with her friends to discuss and interact with Korean fans nationwide. The page has garnered almost 75,000 likes since it was created six years ago.
“Back then, we were still in school and Korean entertainment wasn’t as famous as it is now. K-pop fans were in the minority. That’s why I decided to create this page so we could share information about the latest K-news,” says the 23-year-old who’s currently learning the Korean language.
With the Korean wave showing little sign of abating, and the number of K-lovers on the rise, Aimi and her team of writers, editors and photographers now focus on covering any K-events in Malaysia. She continues: “We share important and trending news not just about K-entertainment, but also about travel, food, and many more for Korean fans in Malaysia.”
A KOREAN OUTING
The heat was unbearable that one Sunday afternoon when I walked in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, with my editor and colleague for a Korean food sojourn on the invite of a Korean friend. We carpooled in my colleague’s Korean-manufactured car, Hyundai.
There are more than 20,000 Koreans residing in Malaysia. The community consists mostly of expatriates working in South Korean companies, as well as an increasing number of international students. All around us, we saw rows of shops with Korean names and words. “I feel like we’re in Korea,” I recalled remarking to my companions.
Soon, we arrived at the front of a building, which housed a Korean mini market, Seoul Mart, on the ground floor, and Daorae Korean BBQ restaurant, on the first floor. This was the venue of our lunch appointment. Jin Hee Jeon, a baseball player for Korean baseball team 9 Innings, greeted us when we reached the top of the stairs and brought us to a private room in the restaurant. Jin’s friend, Yoon Sun Kyu, is the chief operating officer of Daorae Korean BBQ Restaurant and also the chairman of the Korean Society in Malaysia.
“Annyeonghaseyo (hello)!” Yoon greets us with a warm smile as we enter the room. Yoon’s restaurant, which opened here 14 years ago and now has expanded to 18 branches, is known for being the main F&B sponsor for most Korean artistes whenever they hold concerts here.
“I’ve been in Malaysia for 16 years. I came here for my children’s education,” shares Yoon, a native of Seoul, through Jin as his interpreter. There are about 2,000 Korean students in Malaysia, according to Wikipedia. It seems that Malaysia’s multicultural environment offers them the ideal opportunity to practise English as well as study other languages such as Chinese or Malay. They describe the educational environment in Malaysia as being more relaxed than in Korea.
The 53-year-old shares that the food served at his restaurant is as close to that which one can get back in Korea. Says Yoon: “At first, my customers were young people who enjoy Korean music and dramas. As time went on, they started bringing their families and friends. The interest is definitely growing.”
We couldn’t agree with him more as we conclude our Korean outing with Jin at coffee outlet Coffea Coffee across the street. Yes, you guessed it, another Korean establishment.
Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli
(NST entertainment writer)
“WHEN we watch a Korean drama and see our favourite actor or actress eat something, somehow we also want to try. My favourite Korean food is bibimbap but not because it sounds similar to my name (giggling). It’s rice-based and the mixing is the best part about it. I first learnt the concept of bibimbap from the series Full House. They mixed leftover food and came up with a new meal. I had my first bibimbap in 2012 at Dubu Dubu (now Dubu Yo!) in Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur. That restaurant introduced me to local yet authentic Korean cuisine. I fell in love with it. I’ve been to Korea four times. I had the authentic one in Jeju in 2013. That one, waaaah so fresh!”
Ainul Farahana Mustapa
(Executive, Webe Digital)
“IT all started with Winter Sonata. I listened to the soundtrack and fell in love with it in an instant. This year, I already visited Korea four times! I follow K-pop groups on their tour. Where ever they go, I’d follow. I love Korean food too. A few years ago, it was hard to find halal restaurants, but now it’s easy since so many Muslims are into everything Korean now. I guess it’s because Korean food is spicy, and it suits our taste buds. I try cooking Korean food once in a while. I usually go to little Korea town in Ampang or the K Market in Mont Kiara to get ingredients.”
Toppoki ala Char Kuey Teow
200g medium prawns
For the sauces
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dark soya sauce
2 tbsp Korean soya sauce
½ tsp sugar
300g soft rice cake
1½ tbsp Korean chilli paste
400g cockles, boiled
8 stalks chives, cut 2cm
100g beansprouts, tailed
1. Boil prawns with water until cooked through. Remove and strain stock.
2. Remove head and shell of prawns, blend with 1 cup (250ml) stock then strain.
3. Mix sauces with stock, bring to the boil then simmer until thick. Set aside to cool.
4. Warm remaining stock, add rice cake. Cook until tender.
5. Add chilli paste, stir well, then add half of sauce mixture.
6. Add cockles, prawns, chives, beansprouts and egg. Stir to combine then serve.