[Viewpoint]Food for the massesUntil the 1960s, sushi was a local dish enjoyed only by the Japanese people. Westerners considered eating raw fish to be an uncultivated and barbarian tradition. However, the Japanese have succeeded in creating the image that sushi represents traditional Japanese high culture. Today, it is recognized as a world-class gourmet food.
Making a Japanese dish global was not easy. First, the Japanese threw away the tradition of using chopsticks to eat sushi. Instead, they washed their hands with a wet towel and showed Westerners that they could eat sushi by picking it up with their fingers and dipping it in soy source.
For Westerners who fumbled with chopsticks, this created a new way of eating sushi. It created the image that Japanese restaurants made sanitation their first priority. Then restaurateurs decorated the interior of their sushi bars with traditional Japanese accessories. In addition, they harmonized the atmosphere of the restaurant, using old-fashioned service featuring kimono-clad waitresses.
Not long afterward, Japanese sushi restaurants started to become engraved in the minds of the people of the world as not just as simple eateries, but as a cultural code representative of Japan’s culture and brand image.
Behind this success story is the active participation of the Japanese people, who heartily appreciate traditional Japanese food and culture, the active support of the government and active investment from businesses.
What about Korean food in the international community? Koreans usually do not complain about paying 10,000 won ($10.90) for soup at an Italian restaurant, but they readily gripe and frown over yukgyejang, a Korean soup, if it costs 10,000 won. They are so accustomed to the typical way of cooking, they jump to the conclusion that a if a dish is cooked differently, it is either a fusion dish or non-Korean food.
They also think it proper that Korean food should be cheap and served all at once on the table with a popular Korean drink. That’s what we experience in our daily lives, anyway. Nevertheless, Korean people often complain that there are no proper Korean restaurants to take foreign visitors. They seldom pay attention to the fact that almost all Korean restaurants at hotels have closed due to a lack of business.
In order to internationalize Korean food, we first must launch a campaign to educate Korean people about the country’s culinary culture so they can be proud of it. I know that some internationally renowned organizations, such as the National Restaurant Association in the United States and Euromonitor International, a global market research organization based in London, pay attention to Korean dishes as healthy food worthy of active research.
However, there is a lack of understanding about how good Korean food tastes. For example, Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese restaurant chain in California, wants to convince their customers that the Korean-style barbeque dishes they serve is from Japan. I couldn’t believe that some Koreans who dined there said they were impressed at the influence of Korean wave because even Japanese restaurants were serving Korean dishes.
To internationalize Korean dishes, the government, as well as concerned businesses, should be aware of the importance of the industrialization of traditional Korean food.
Japan has already established a plan to multiply the number of lovers of its cuisine. Under the plan, Japan will increase the number of people who favor its local food from 600 million to 1.2 billion by 2010. China has also designated its food industry, which occupies 13 percent of its gross domestic product, as one of 10 growth industries. The same applies to Thailand, India and Vietnam.
Worldwide, the food industry amounts to 4,800 trillion won ($5.25 trillion) in sales a year. That is even bigger than the size of the information technology market, which is about 2,750 trillion won, or that of auto industry, which is about 1,320 trillion won. According to estimates, the middle-class population worldwide will grow to 2 billion by 2020. Naturally, every country in the world wants to compete with others to win over new customers.
Internationalizing Korean food has been a longtime wish of the Korean people. Through internationalization of Korean food, we will be able to In order to do so, we must promote it as a profitable industry. For that, we need active participation from businesses. If they cooperate, they can build profits through internal demand and create a synergistic effect ― grafting their experience in the process of globalization with other businesses to build culinary culture.
Combining their experience, vast networks of international human resources and a strong inflow of capital, Korean businesses should be able to establish a strategy for the internationalization of Korean culinary culture. The government should also provide comprehensive support by benchmarking the examples of advanced countries.
*The writer is the CEO of Kwangjuyo, a ceramics manufacturer. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Tae-kwon