Visitors learn to make their own Korean dishes
When Robin Searl came to Seoul from Hong Kong for a weekend getaway, she didn't just settle for trying the local cuisine. She learned to cook it herself.
"I just took a cooking class and I'm heading to the rice cake museum later," she said. "I like taking cooking classes when I go on vacation because I learn something new and I get to eat something delicious. Besides, it's fun."
As Korean food gains recognition and popularity abroad, more visitors to Seoul are taking time to not only eat various Korean dishes, but also include hands-on Korean cooking classes as part of their itinerary.
There are a handful of culinary institutions in Seoul that offer various Korean cooking experiences, conducted by English- and Japanese-speaking chef instructors in classrooms equipped with cooking facilities. These schools are located in the tourist and shopping districts, such as Insadong and Myeongdong in the heart of Seoul.
It is best to contact them well in advance to discuss availability and menu, especially for any specific requirements or group classes. Some places hold classes for foreign visitors by request only, whereas others can accommodate same day reservations and walk-ins for a small number of individuals, depending on space.
Korea Cuisine Experience Center (www.korea-food.or.kr)
The Korea Cuisine Experience Center (KCEC) is located in the basement of the Korea Tourism Organization Office, where visitors can book the cooking classes as well as get help on general travel needs such as maps and Internet access. Visitors can also try free samples of japchae, stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables, and kimchijeon, savory kimchi pancakes, at the KCEC.
Korean cooking classes that run for 60 minutes to 90 minutes are held three times a day, Monday through Saturday for a cost of 30,000 won ($27) to 50,000 won depending on the number and kinds of dishes. In addition to English-speaking staff, classes can be conducted in Japanese or Chinese with an in-house interpreter. KCEC offers cooking classes ranging from a single visitor to up to 20 people. Walk-ins can be accommodated if there is room.
Chef instructor Park Hyun-hee was surprised that many participants came to her class with prior Korean food knowledge. "Discussion during class often turns to how they can make a Korean dish without using certain ingredients that they can't find at home. They are very enthusiastic and creative," chef Park said.
Nearest subway - Exit 5, Jonggak Station Line 1 or Exit 2, Euljiro Ipgu Station, Line 2
Contact - email@example.com
Chonga Kimchi World (www.kimchiworld.org)
Chonga Kimchi World is operated by Daesang FNF Corporation whose main business is packaged kimchi under the leading Chonga brand. As the name indicates, they focus on cabbage kimchi-making class only, efficiently run five times daily in Japanese and up to three times daily in English. In addition to making cabbage kimchi and tasting makgeolli, a rice beer, participants can choose to cook either tteokbokki, rice cakes and vegetables in spicy or soy sauce, for 28,000 won or japchae for 35,000 won. Classes last one hour and participants are welcome to take their kimchi home. Kimchi World is popular among group tours and exchange students, but is also happy to accommodate individual reservations and walk-ins based on availability.
Takahiro Miyazaki and Naoki Zuehusa, both college students from Japan, recently participated in the kimchi class at Kimchi World. This was their first time to make their own kimchi and tteokbokki with soy sauce.
"(Making kimchi) was easy and a lot of fun. I also like tteokbokki with soy sauce because I can't eat spicy food very well," Miyazaki said.
Nearest subway - Exit 5, Anguk Station, Line 3
Contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
Institute of Traditional Korean Food (www.kfr.or.kr)
The Institute of Traditional Korean Food, headed by Dr. Sookja Yoon, a leading figure in traditional Korean food and prolific cookbook author, offers a Korean cultural experience through cooking that reflects her expertise in Korean tteok, or rice cakes. Although largely customizable, the basic options for foreign visitors are bulgogi for 50,000 won or participants' choice of two types of dishes plus a traditional Korean costume wearing session for 70,000 won. In addition, the institute uniquely offers various options in rice cakes, starting from a class learning to make one kind of rice cake for 30,000 won. All classes, lasting about two hours, include a tour of the rice cake museum located on the second floor of the building.
There is also a 30-minute rice cake making experience, held twice daily in Korean at the rice cake museum. It costs 3,000 won for the museum entrance fee plus 10,000 for the experience.
Nearest subway - Exit 6, Jongno 3-ga Station, Lines 1,3 and 5
Contact - inquire via web site
Food & Culture Korea (www.fnckorea.com)
Food & Culture Korea (F&C) is a well-known food styling school for native Koreans led by Sujin Kim, who is the food director for many famous Korean dramas and movies. Korean cooking classes for foreigners are conducted by English- and Japanese-speaking chef instructors and are held by request only with a customized menu. F&C's kitchen space can accommodate up to 60 people, but the school requires a minimum of only two people for a class, starting at 30,000 won per dish and lasting about an hour.
"From the third generation Korean-Americans who wanted to learn to cook the food of their motherland, to American parents of Korean adoptees who wanted to cook Korean food for their children, people from all walks of life with the common ground of wanting to learn about Korean food have come here," said chef instructor and food stylist Ellie Hyewon Lee.
Nearest subway - Exit 2, Gyeongbokgung Station, Line 3
Contact - email@example.com
O'ngo Food Communications (www.ongofood.com)
O'ngo Communication specializes in Korean food education for foreign visitors with two main programs - food tours and cooking classes. Classes are run twice daily with different menus offered depending on the day of the week. Beginning classes include two dishes for 65,000 won whereas intermediate classes include five dishes for 120,000 won. The company also caters to culinary professionals with customized curriculum and offers corporate team building events with food tours and cooking classes.
On a recent afternoon at O'ngo class, Jan Guldborg from Denmark was making his first japchae. "The first time I tasted Korean food was two years ago when I came to visit a friend in Korea. Everything was really good, but I can't forget the Korean barbecue I shared with a group of friends," he said.
This time, he found time during his four-day stay not only to explore the food scene in Seoul but also to learn to cook Korean food. "Now I can make this at home, although I'll have to switch the sesame leaf garnish with fennel fronds," Guldborg said.
Nearest subway - Exit 4, Anguk Station, Line 3 (Yonhap)