“I was wondering how the original Korean food taste like watching Korean dramas and both Samgyetang and Bulgogi here is delicious.”
A tourist from Malaysia said after eating at Makan Restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul. On the day we visited Makan, the small restaurant with about 20 seats was filled with Muslim customers.
Along the street around Seoul Central Mosque, there are several restaurants serving Korean halal food. Some Turkish or Arabian restaurants serve Korean food prepared based on halal procedure.
“My son who majored in Arabic once brought his friends home,” Yoo Hong-jong, the owner of Korean halal restaurant Eid, explained how he started the business. “But they didn’t touch any of the dishes with meats. I was aware of the culture’s strict dietary laws restricting pork and alcohol, but that was the first time I learned about the halal procedure.”
Problems involving food is the first obstacle for Muslim visitors encounter in Korea. According to Korea Tourism Organization’s 2016 survey asking 700 Muslim visitors to Korea about their experience, satisfaction levels for accommodation, shopping, transportation, and airport experience were relatively high, showing 67%, 69%, 72%, and 69% respectively. However, satisfaction levels in food and religious practice went down significantly, showing 46% and 16%.
“Koreans think that Korean food is healthy, but as a Muslim, hardly anything is halal,” Alphago Sina, a Turkish living in Korea for 13 years, explained. “We end up eating vegetables and fishes at regular restaurants.”
Business Producer Hanaa Bassam Sapi at Gulf News, too, pointed out, “Muslim visitors will find it hard to visit Korea if the number of halal restaurants doesn’t increase.”
In an effort to deal with such inconvenience, Korea Tourism Organization introduced Muslim-Friendly Restaurant Classification System in 2016.
Translated by Heewon Kim