Wish List: Specialty Food Items

Specialty food items in Korea.


I’ve wobbled back and forth on whether or not to do this for a few months now. On the one hand, conspicuous consumption, capitalism, etc.; on the other, we all need things to live. Sometimes it’s hard to find decent/handmade/well-crafted things to live with here in Korea, if your Korean isn’t top-notch. Even after I finished language school, it took me a while before I was able to really venture beyond Gmarket, Coupang and the department stores.

So I decided to add a wish list category to the blog. To be clear, I’m not in anyway sponsored by any of the companies whose items will appear on the lists, and I won’t even own most of them. Some of them are (and will remain) well out of my price range. These aren’t reviews or promotions. The only point of these posts is to introduce some new things (and shops) to readers.

(And maybe, just maybe, somebody’s husband might be reading somebody’s blog, and take a few hints about somebody’s future birthday/anniversary/Christmas gifts. Ahem.)

So, as for the list…

  1. Organic Whole Dark Wheat from Soseng; 6,000 KRW for 1kg
  2. Wild Cherry Tree Honey from Gre-eat Market; $15 US
  3. 7-year-developed Soy Sauce by Eomma Senggak from Soseng; 10,000 KRW
  4. Smoked Pastrami from Salt House; 12,000 KRW
  5. Natural Syrup Set A from In Season;  48,000 KRW
  6. Cockscomb Flower Tea from I Love Flower Tea (꽃을담다); 26,000 KRW

I thought, since this is a food-focused blog, it would only be right to start with food. There is a lot of cool stuff going on right now in Korea, in terms of artisanal food products. Korea moves at the speed of light, and while the last wave of trends related to foreign ingredients that rode in on the FTA still lingers, there is a whole new generation of Koreans who are reimagining the roots of their own food culture.

Using the broadened perspective a greater influx of foreign goods has given them, city dwellers in particular are returning back to food practices once thought to be out-of-date by young urbanites with busy work lives. Some of items on this list, like the syrups, are very basic reinterpretations of traditional practices that have fallen out of use among new generations of Koreans.

While mothers and grandmothers in hometowns across the country in that great region commonly known as Not Seoul may click their tongues at the prices, the women in most younger Korean households are already balancing childcare with grueling work schedules. It is appealing to be able not only to purchase, at the click of a button, a modern version of the 청 (cheong, fermented fruit or grain syrups) their mothers made over the course of months, but also to have those syrups available in innovative new flavors.

Other artisanal items, like the soy sauce, are strictly traditional, but have been eclipsed in recent decades by cheap, factory-produced alternatives. The slow food movement has had a big impact on Korea, partially in reaction to foreign trade and policy developments like the adoption of the FTA.

While Koreans have been quick to adapt to foreign ingredients and cooking methods, a protectionist instinct has also arisen in response. The desire to keep Korea’s food culture and industries alive and thriving, and to not lose sight of how good Korean ingredients can truly be when made well — that is, slowly — has led to a proliferation of modern Korean food masters, who protect and keep the old traditions.

Some of the artisanal products that have appeared on the Korean scene, like the pastrami on this list, represent the incredible impact the migration of gyopo (ethnic Koreans born or raised abroad) into the country has had on the food scene here. Fluent, or at least conversational, in both food languages, gyopo have been some of the most successful in bridging the gap between “Koreanized” and “authentic”, managing in many cases to satisfy both audiences (and pleasing the socks off of many foreigners who have felt otherwise stranded in a foreign-food desert for years).

Overall, though, the main thread connecting the items on this list is the fact that I want them all. The pastrami I have had and can vouch for — it also needs to be said that Salt House’s smoked cheeses and almonds are out of this world, in my opinion, and B’s face lights up like the sun when I pull a package of their smoked bacon out of the fridge. In fact, there’s probably an entire post about Salt House coming at some point.

For now, I’ll leave you off here. I hope this post is helpful. Feel free to leave comments suggesting future wish lists you’d like to see. The wish list posts won’t normally be this long — I just got a bit carried away this time.