Not Just Fast Food Anymore: the Increase of French Restaurants in Korea Since 2000

Hal Swindall
Tuesday, January 5, 2016 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
Free for members: 10,000 won for non-members and 5,000W for students

Before 2000, there were fewer than five French restaurants in all of Korea; today, there are 60, plus many bakeries. Most are listed in a guide published by the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This is a breathtaking increase for any type of business in such a short time, and indicates a major shift in the food preferences of some Koreans, 5% of whom now regularly buy European food products. Moreover, many French restaurant owners predict further expansion as their cuisine catches on, particularly among youth. At the same time, people involved in the food industry here note the sharp differences between French and Korean culinary cultures, so they concede that this product will always remain a niche market. Tellingly, most French establishments on the peninsula seat under 50 diners, and their menus are correspondingly small. Nor are most of them deluxe: the majority offer dishes at affordable cost, since their mission is to introduce French cuisine to the Korean public. Low prices account for much of their success, but more importantly there is a new interest in foreign food other than burger and pizza chains, so that some young Korean chefs are going to France to study and gain work experience; at the same time, some French chefs are fleeing abroad to escape the poor economy back home. Many Korean and French chefs create their own Franco-Korean fusion cuisines as well, which attracts Korean diners. Still, over 50 of the country’s French restaurants are in Seoul, with another five in Busan; one is in Gyeongju. There used to be a few others elsewhere, but they went out of business. This indicates that French food is still unsuccessful outside of Korea’s two major cities.

Hal Swindall was born in the Bay Area of California in 1963. He received a PhD in comparative literature from UC Riverside in 1994, writing a dissertation on fin-de-siècle British, French and Italian novels and art criticism. He went to China to teach in 1994 and has taught at universities in Malaysia and Taiwan as well as China and Korea. Presently he teaches in the Department of Global Studies at Pusan National University. Although his main research interests continue to be in late 19c Europe, he has developed new ones, especially Buddhist and Daoist temples and their art.


Croissants bake, hypothetically in a French restaurant in Korea.

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