The K-food boom, Korean soft power for the taste buds

At the K-Mart Champs-Elysées supermarket in Paris, October 26, 2023.

Rue de Provence, at 9It is neighborhood of Paris, not far from Saint-Lazare station. There are three of them, who came at lunchtime to buy their little piece of Korea at K-Mart, the supermarket recognizable by its logo – a capital orange letter K on an anthracite gray background. Opened in April, it is the last of the Korean brand’s five Parisian locations. “We love it, there is an incredible choice, we want to try everything”enthuses Nina, 19 years old, interrupted by Célia, another member of the trio, crying: ” They have tteokbokki ! »

Crowded behind the refrigerated display case, the BTS students devour their eyes on a bag containing rice flour sticks, to be cooked in a spicy red pepper-based sauce. “It’s killer, with a spicy and a little sweet flavorexplains Kenza. Shall we take two packages? This goes fast. » His friends agree.

A cultural tsunami

They are worthy representatives of this growing number of consumers who love the flavors of HansikKorean cuisine and, in particular, street food. Tteokbokkitherefore, but also kimbap (Or gimbap), rice rolls covered with seaweed and stuffed with all kinds of ingredients, bibimbap, a dish that mixes rice, vegetables, egg and marinated meat, hot doga hot dog without bread where the fried sausage is skewered on a stick, there are no more secrets for a bottle-fed generation K-pop musicin cinema and series (K-dramas) from the land of Morning Calm.

The wave reached restaurants, now filling carts, frying pans and microwaves. In the space of a few years, the number of Korean restaurants has doubled in the capital and Ile-de-France, today reaching almost 300, in addition to around 80 addresses in the provinces. Not to mention the “Chinese” restaurants that, after offering pseudo-Japanese cuisine, now expand their offering with Korean dishes. Following this trend, supermarkets and convenience stores are opening almost everywhere.

In Paris, K-Mart and Ace Mart (also five supermarkets in the capital), which have their online service guaranteeing deliveries throughout France, are the flagships of a flotilla of small ships anchored in Lille, Lyon, Marseille , Bordeaux, Nice or even Dijon. In these temples of Korean (and a little Japanese) food, an often plethora of condiments, noodles, sweets and drinks delight most young people in their early twenties, especially girls, taken by the Hallyu (a word of Chinese origin that means “Korean wave”), this cultural tsunami coming from Seoul arrived in Europe about ten years ago and was embodied in the global success of musical groups such as BTS or black Rose.

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