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Why South Korean food has become so popular in the UK

4 min read

Why South Korean food has become so popular in the UK
With a rise in the popularity of Korean culture, supermarkets and restaurants, South Korean food is the new favourite among foodies in the UK
The UK has always celebrated diverse cuisine, and you’ll find numerous restaurants in your local area inspired by food from all around the world.
But while there’s been a recent influx in Caribbean cooking and a continuation of some of Britain’s best-loved dishes from India, China and Japan, there’s another international set of flavours that have recently captured the attention of the nation. 
South Korea is home to some truly tremendous dishes, and for years experts have been predicting that these foods would go mainstream across Europe.
There have been several unique components to the success of Korean food in the UK, and that prophesied boom period may now be upon us. 

Korean culture has inspired a generation

kimchi on plate with blue background
Before looking at the food itself, it’s vital to work out why a trend has begun. Interest in Korean food is actually linked to South Korean culture as a whole.
Indeed, K-pop, a form of popular music originating in South Korea, has made a real impact on the global scene and there are now legions of fans who are encapsulated by the movement.
From fashion to comedy, K-pop has opened the door to an exploration of a wider array of interests associated with South Korea. 
"K-pop has opened the door to an exploration of a wider array of interests associated with South Korea"
With performers like Psy, BTS and BLACKPINK continuing to set trends, and other cultural influences thus making their way to the UK from South Korea, it was only a matter of time before people started to become interested in the food these stars love to eat.
Those famous faces have made Korean culture more accessible, and social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok have helped to promote the snacks, drinks and meals that the performers love.
Eat alongs, unboxings and even shop walkthroughs have all contributed to this heightened awareness. 

A new wave of supermarkets 

Accessibility is a huge part of that rise in South Korean cuisine and with British consumers intrigued by what the country has to offer, it was only a matter of time before those products became more widely available.
South Korean-inspired supermarkets are popping up all over the country. They would have originally been designed to cater to immigrant communities who had come to the UK and wanted a taste of home, but the cultural influence has led to Brits also seeking out these unique stores. 
Those famous snacks, drinks and ingredients are suddenly right there on the high street, with consumers getting wrapped up in the inventive packaging, unique flavours, and imaginative product variation.
From the fresh, canned fruit juices, to shrimp chips, Tteokbokki and Pepero, the UK is suddenly full of fantastic and tasty South Korean exports.
These supermarkets are sure to be a mainstay in major cities for years to come and are only adding to this increasing love affair. 

A one stop pop-up 

woman holding takeaway cup of bubble tea
Street food and pop-up shops have also contributed to this escalation in South Korean cuisine.
Bubble tea for example, which originated in Taiwan, has also been influenced by South Korean flavours and variations. The social media profile of the drink, coupled with its alternative texture and moreish qualities, has led to plenty of pop-ups serving it across the UK. 
Street food has become a trend unto itself, with multiple countries getting showcased through this alternate eating format.
As a genre, street food is exciting and fresh, and South Korean dishes effortlessly fit into that description. In markets and community events, stalls began to arrive which were run by some of the best South Korean chefs in the country.
There’s a healthiness and lightness to many of these dishes, and standouts like the rice dish bibimbap, kimchi which consists of fermented cabbage, and Korean fried chicken, have ensured that those vendors are must-visits in any location. 

Korean restaurants are now serving these specialities 

korean barbecue
Music and pop culture, supermarkets, pop-up shops and street food have all encouraged this boom in South Korean restaurants.
Although there was a period in the 1990s and 2000s known as the “Korean Wave”, especially across the United States, which promoted the novelty of Korean barbecue among other food specialties, this latest trend is a lot more nuanced in its celebration of specific dishes. 
With the UK welcoming these cooks with open arms to the country, new eating experiences are arriving with full and hearty menus.
Look out for foods like: the gorgeous bulgogi, which is a smokey and rich beef dish; jajangmyeon, which consists of thick wheat noodles; and the stunning milk-based dessert bingsu.
"There was a period in the 1990s and 2000s known as the 'Korean Wave'"
South Korean food is also one to be shared, and that communal quality has helped Brits connect with the cuisine on a personal level, creating memorable moments with family and friends. 
Korean food seems to be here to stay and there are now more opportunities than ever to get stuck in and discover the spices, umami flavourings, and both meaty and vegetarian-friendly meals.
Perhaps the reason for its sudden popularity isn’t truly to do with a pop culture influence or immigrant community, despite those contributing to its recent prominence. Simply put, Korean food is becoming so beloved because it is just that good. 
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