Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What's cooking, Korea?

In a recent focus on the decline of home made banchan in Korea*, Korea Joongang Daily mentioned busy schedules, and the boom in HMR (Home Made Replacement) products, new online services (e.g. The Banchan, about to be purchased by food major Dongwon Group), or restaurants proposing home food (jipbap).
Korea's tradition of homemade banchan is vaning. Many new products and services indeed (20160810 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/763151485890809856)
To me, even more than the arrival of hypermarkets, the emergence of SSM or Super-SuperMarket  (dominated by the same oligopoly: Lotte Super, HomePlus Express, E-mart everyday) accelerated changes in HMR variety and packaging, particularly when it comes to targeting specific demographics, like single households. And as all the major producers seeked for differenciation, the HMR offer evolved from classic dishes to more creative recipes. 

Yet that creativity has yet to emerge for banchan in the Korean distribution, even online.
If theBanchan is more a food market before than a banchan specialist, it does offer a wide range of banchan, but without revisiting the classics. Furthermore, big food groups taking over this kind of potentially disruptive players doesn't bode well for diversity in the future.
I'm less worried about fewer Koreans preparing their own banchan - a logical trend - than about Korean palates being exposed to fewer kinds of banchan. And over the past few years, the decline in diversity for side dishes offered in Korea's mom and pop restaurants has been very spectacular. If it's linked to their struggle to stay in business in these times of crisis, old customer habits don't help: many remain reluctant to pay a fair price for Korean food (yet ready to pay way too much for mediocre Foreign food). 

The good news is that Korea, as usual experiencing societal changes at bballi bballi speed, seems to be rediscovering cooking way sooner than other nations. And not just young girls asking family recipes from their halmoni: people of all ages opening creative eateries, granddads venturing into the kitchen, food becoming a key driver in the startup ecosystem...

So be not afraid, Korea, and keep surprising us!

Seoul Village 2016
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* "Rise of pre-made banchan may herald end of an era: Busy schedules deal blow to culture of Korea’s quintessential side dishes" (KJD 20160810)

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