Lamb takes a seat at Korean dinner tables

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Lamb takes a seat at Korean dinner tables

Barbecued lamb chops are the most popular dish at the Westin Chosun Seoul’s buffet, a surprise because generally Koreans prefer chicken and beef.

“Sheep was not widely enjoyed by people in the past due to its smell, but the trend of skewered lamb made Koreans more familiar with this kind of meat, and more people have come looking for lamb chops as well,” said Choi Sang-chul, a chef working at the restaurant. The popularity of sheep meat is rising among domestic consumers who once considered the dish too strong in both scent and taste for the Korean palate.

According to the Korea Customs Service, the amount of imported sheep meat last year was 12,334 tons, a fourfold increase compared to 2006. It was the first time imports in Korea surpassed 10,000 tons per year.

Although it is equivalent to merely 3 percent of imported beef, its rapid growth is notable considering it hasn’t been long since sheep started to gain popularity among Koreans. The perception gradually changed as more people were exposed to Asian lamb dishes on trips abroad and lamb restaurants that catered to the Chinese population living in Korea.

The dish that has contributed most to Koreans’ familiarity with the meat is skewered lamb. Restaurants that offer small barbecue kits on the table are no longer confined to Chinatowns, where the first batch of such eateries first appeared in Korea. Now they can be easily found in trendy spots around Hongik University and in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

For Koreans who were not used to sheep meat, local restaurants served skewered lamb with a mixture of spices that would neutralize its distinctive smell. Those who pass the beginner’s stage move onto less marinated dishes like hot pots and lamb chops. Restaurants with the dishes are on the rise. The franchise Genhis, which serves lamb barbecue, opened 38 stores nationwide in the last two years and plans five more next month.

Sheep meat under one year is called lamb. If the slaughtered sheep was over a year old, the meat produced is mutton. Compared to mutton, lamb has less smell and a softer texture, which is why it’s a good dish to start for beginners.

“The younger the lamb, the better it tastes,” said Kim Jae-woo, CEO of the importing company Happy Lamb. “I expect demand for high-quality sheep meat will increase in the upcoming years.”


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