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There’s a new category of buffet restaurant in town

Greater emphasis on authentic cuisine is a delight for foodies

Oct 08,2015
Soosa, a Japanese buffet restaurant specializing in sushi, serves up a wide selection of the cuisine at its branch in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. By Im Hyung-dong
The pursuit of quality over quantity is growing in popularity among food aficionados in Korea, as people are favoring more focused buffet restaurants specializing in a certain type of cuisine over the traditional style of buffet restaurants.

Instead of offering a wide selection of dishes from various countries and of varying quality, these restaurants hone in on one type of cuisine - such as Japanese, Chinese or Indian - and offer customers a range of authentic dishes. Many of them rotate their menus frequently.

Soosa, a Japanese buffet restaurant specializing in sushi. By Im Hyung-dong
The culture of going to family-style buffet restaurants, which serve a range of Korean and international foods, has become widespread in Korea, especially because Koreans have a tendency to celebrate many life occasions with large group dinners, including weddings, first birthdays and 60th birthdays.

Taking this trend to the next level, some local restaurants decided to focus on serving only the most popular dishes, in order to stand apart from the general buffet restaurants.

Olbaan is a buffet restaurant specializing in Korean food. Provided by each restaurant
One of the most popular options at most buffet restaurants is sushi, as many consider it to be a more expensive type of food than the other offerings. Also, since chefs make it in front of guests and serve it fresh, sushi has continued to be in demand at buffet restaurants.

Soosa, a Japanese restaurant that first opened in 2013, saw the possibility in offering an extensive range of this one type of cuisine as a buffet. It transformed itself in August into a buffet restaurant specializing in different types of seafood from different regions of Japan.

Sushi made with a variety of marine delicacies, including shrimp, salmon and halibut, are the most popular at Soosa. To also appeal to diners who don’t enjoy seafood, the restaurant offers a beef, vegetable and noodle section where you can find mushroom or beef sushi, or noodles stir-fried with vegetables.

Shang-hao offers a variety of Chinese dishes. Provided by each restaurant
“Thanks to the spread of social media, we now have an increasing number of customers who ask for relatively lesser known dishes [from Japan],” said a merchandise strategist at the restaurant. “We update our menu frequently to have some popular [dishes like] cream curry udon.”

The growing desire among consumers to try out more diverse food has also had an effect on Chinese cuisine restaurants. Before, when Korean people thought of Chinese dishes they considered only a few, such as jajangmyeon, or noodles with black sauce, jjambbong, spicy noodle soup with seafood, or tangsuyuk, fried pork. But now, the public has learned to differentiate Taiwanese food from that of Hong Kong, and to seek dishes from different regions.

Chefs at seafood buffet restaurant Bono Bono prepare food in an open kitchen. Provided by each restaurant
Shang-hao, located at Garden Five shopping mall in Songpa, southern Seoul, transformed itself from a mundane Chinese restaurant into a Chinese buffet. It offers 80 different dishes from different parts of China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Guandong and others. The restaurant brought in many talents from China to make the dishes more authentic for foodies. Sichuan-style chilli crab, fried ribs and steamed fish with spicy sauce are among the popular offerings.

As people tend to have distinct preference over food these days, more restaurants that only target people with certain taste buds have been increasing since early 2000. Followed by the rising popularity of such Japanese and Chinese food buffets, some venues offer all-vegan menus.

Chaedam in Geumsan County, South Chungcheong, caters to vegans so it doesn’t use meat, dairy products or chemical additives. It only uses vegetables or fruits to embellish its table tops. The restaurant offers some of the most well-known Korean dishes, such as bulgogi (marinated beef), made with vegan meat.

Indian food-lovers can get their fill at Utsave, an Indian food buffet in the Hongdae area of Mapo District, western Seoul, while fans of bread and breakfast food should check out Famous Lamb in the same neighborhood, which serves a more simplified version of a hotel breakfast buffet. At a nationwide chain buffet restaurant called Duggi, visitors can try different types of ddeokboki, or sticky rice cake with spicy sauce.

With the rise of these varied buffet restaurants, the larger hotel buffets are trying to make the dining experience they offer different and unique by having the chefs cook more dishes in front of the customers, right before the food is served.

“Hotel buffets work as a first step in entering the dining world of luxury restaurants,” said Ahn Joo-yeon, communications team manager at Westin Chosun Hotel. “By using high quality food ingredients and providing made-to-order dishes, we try to keep our premium stance in the business.”

BY KANG HYE-RAN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]


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