Hallyu (한류), or the Korean Wave, is the term used to describe the spread of Korean culture across the globe. It was first used by Chinese journalists in 1999 and the term stuck. While most around the world think of the wave being composed of nothing more than Korean Dramas and K-Pop stars, they’re wrong. Getting ready to crest the wave and spread throughout every nation is what makes this country great: the food.
Each year, the city of Jeonju (전주), hosts a celebration of food in several of its venues. This year was no different. Spectators at the World Cup Stadium could sample various kinds of Korean food, including seven different regional styles kimchi. On site was also the International Fermented Food Expo, featuring Korean soju (소주) and makeolli (막걸리). A short taxi ride away visitors to the Jeonju Hanok Village (전주 한옥 마을), found banners proudly displaying the city’s signature dish: bibimbap (비빔밥). The festival locations also spread throughout the city, allowing everyone a chance to sample some great dishes.
So what was there to try? One really can’t go to Jeonju and not try the famous bibimbap. Of all the variations in Korea, this is probably the most famous. King Taejo, who founded the Joseon Dynasty, hailed from Jeonju. Therefore, he ordered that one dish from his hometown be prepared as royal cuisine. The Jeonju bibimbap is served in a heavy brass bowl and made with over 25 ingredients. Resting in the center is a small serving of raw beef, mixed in chili paste (고추장), and crowned with an egg yolk. When traveling around Korea, most bibimbap dishes are lumped into bowl, but not this royal variety. Every ingredient has a special place, making the presentation unique.
Scores of food stalls lined the grounds at the World Cup Stadium and those that were there didn’t leave hungry. When entering the main area, most queued up to get a plate full of seven different kinds of kimchi from around the nation. While some were red and spicy, others were white and absent of any chilies. The taste electrified one’s mouth and caused one to yearn for more tasty morsels of food. Whether you were looking for traditional hansik (한식 / Korean food) or street food, the festival pulled out all the stops – even including “masters” to cook up their specialties for all to enjoy.
Once visitors had rummaged through all the food stalls, it was time to enter the main tent and sample the fermented goods. While soju and makgeolli were the featured stars of the expo, they were not the only ones to shine. Vendors from around the world showcased their goods, inviting passers-by to try samples and explore the world of food. While navigating the endless rows of food stalls, I finally found something colorful and unique: Sweet Potato Makgeolli. With its pink hues, not only is it a conversation starter among expats, but a mouth quenching beverage. Those wanting seafood could also enjoy plentiful catches from the seafaring ports of Korea, making this part of the food festival even more mouth-watering.