A restaurant guide worthy of its ribbons

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A restaurant guide worthy of its ribbons


With the entire country obsessing over international cuisines, it’s about time Korea had a reliable restaurant guide. At the moment, Korean national television and cable channels air programs devoted entirely to food from both Korea and other countries. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Web portals, blogs and books that aimlessly discuss food of all kinds; unfortunately, too many of them skimp on the details and are often confusing and inconsistent.
One of the latest entries is a handy book titled “The Blue Ribbon Survey: Restaurants in Seoul, 2006” (17,000 won, or $14) released in November by Kleinix, a local publishing firm. The most noteworthy features of this glossy 302-page book are its index of 988 restaurants in the capital and its quality color photographs.
The book was written by Kim Eun-jo, the former editor of “Travel and Leisure Korea” and the chief editor of Kleinix. She tried to publish it five years ago, but no one was interested. “Back then, Seoul didn’t provide an appropriate setting [for a food guide],” she said. “Unlike countries like France, where some restaurants have been around for over 200 years, Seoul’s restaurants did not have nearly as much time to develop. Plus, there was a shortage of professional food critics.”
To write the book, she composed a list of 2,000 restaurants with the help of the members of a now-defunct food-lovers’ club called “Eat & Cook” and from personal acquaintances. She also gathered information from restaurant guidebooks, blogs, Web pages and by walking into restaurants. Ms. Kim then had about 100 Koreans of various backgrounds rate the restaurants at different times from from Oct. 2004 to Aug. 2005. (Restaurants that opened after this duration aren’t included.) Each participant was given a list of the 2,000 restaurants and asked to rate their taste, service and atmosphere, with an emphasis on taste.
The book is composed of three sections: the list of restaurants, a section with several indexes organized by location, food category, and style. Except for a two-page list of restaurants in English, however, the content is designed for Korean-speaking diners only.
Each restaurant comes with a brief description and a rating marked with blue ribbons, which the editor hopes will to launch a system in Korea similar to the Zagat survey of New York. Only 30 restaurants received the top rating of three blue ribbons. Most have one or two, and some have none.
“Those who participated in the survey were not serious food critics but amateur food-lovers, and the ribbon is a mark of popularity, not a fixed evaluation,” Ms. Kim said, adding that she made the listing “as objective as possible by not informing restaurant owners of the survey.”
Even so, the book’s ratings are no more authoritative that those in other books, as experienced diners might disagree with many of the ratings. Ms. Kim said her company would go online at www.foodandwine.co.kr next February to receive public ratings for the listed restaurants for 2007.

by Ines Cho, Cho Jae-eun
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