Korean ‘royal cooking’ wave hits Hong Kong

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Korean ‘royal cooking’ wave hits Hong Kong

Thanks to the growing popularity of the South Korean television series “Daejanggeum” in Hong Kong, Korean court dining has become immensely popular there. The historical drama set in the Joseon Dynasty centers on the lifestyles of female chefs in the royal palace. Since it aired in Hong Kong, more and more people in the region are visiting Korean restaurants and trying to learn about Korean delicacies.
Korean community leaders in Hong Kong say that “Daejanggeum,” which means “The Great Janggeum” (the name of the main character, played by actress Lee Yeong-ae), is set to lead the hanryu, or Korean wave, in Hong Kong this year.
“Seorabol,” a South Korean restaurant in Hong Kong, has introduced special selections of dishes that appear in the television series, such as the bibimbap served to the royal court, green-pea jelly served with vegetables and other dishes fit for royalty. Prices are relatively expensive for these delicacies, ranging from HK $85 (12,000 won, or $12) to HK $108.
Even so, the public just can’t seem to get enough of the food, causing other Korean restaurants to offer their versions. A Korean manager of the restaurant “Geumrabo” said, “Because of ‘Daejanggeum,’ there has been an upsurge in customers and those who do not come with a reservation have to wait more than half an hour to get a seat.”
Interest in Korean cooking has also increased. Local people have been bombarding Korean residents with questions like, “Why do South Korean restaurants only use metal chopsticks?”, “How do you make kimchi?” or “What is the difference between royal cooking and ordinary cooking?”
Two years ago, when the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic hit, Korean cooking became popular when rumors spread that eating a lot of kimchi and food with garlic would help prevent the disease. And with the popularity of “Daejanggeum,” Korean food is becoming firmly established in Hong Kong.
Ms. Lee is also gaining a wider fan base in Hong Kong, as local weekly magazines have run cover stories about her life and about “Daejanggeum.” The articles include questions from fans such as, “How can Ms. Lee be so beautiful when she has not had any plastic surgery?” Newsstands are stacked with photography books of Ms. Lee, which are selling like hot cakes.
Clearly, Ms. Lee is at the pinnacle of her popularity in Hong Kong as the TV drama has enjoyed ratings over 30 percent. Many people in Hong Kong say they try to rush home before 10 p.m. so as not to miss the show. Some even watch the show with subtitles instead of dubbing, just to hear Ms. Lee’s voice.
In China and Taiwan, 20-something Korean television actors and actresses such as Song Hye-gyo, Song Seung-hun, Jeon Ji-hyun and Cha Tae-hyun had been among the most famous and popular, but nowadays the 30-something Ms. Lee and her counterpart Ji Jin-hee are taking over. Mr. Ji has even earned the nickname “ajumma killer” for his killer good looks.
A professor of Macao University of Science and Technology gave the reason for the popularity of the series by saying, “The use of chopsticks, which is quite familiar in the Chinese-speaking regions, references to Chinese medicine, Buddhism, filial piety and political intrigue in the palaces are all factors that hit the hearts of the Chinese people.”

by Lee Yang-soo
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