From S(e)oul to the land of sambar

The Korean community majorly started coming to Chennai with their families in 2000 while Hyundai launched its Indian branch in 1995

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By Mirah Zamin

Chennai:  Boxed between two buildings, hidden behind the façade of billboards and banners in the dark corridors of Kaveri complex, Osaka food’s situated in Nungambakkam sells some of the most traditional food ingredients for Korean cuisines. Shekar the manager of the shop says ‘Shin Ramyum’, is the favourite noodle brand amongst the Koreans.

Chennai has four more such outlets that import Korean food items such as sticky rice, tuna fish, dried seaweeds, silkworms and rice paper for sushi. The oldest is one Seoul store at  Sriperumbudur ( 30 Km from Chennai) near the Hyundai factory. Seoul store was started by P Pallani in 1996.He opened his second store at Injambbakkam on East Coast Road, third at Adyar and the last one in Nungambakkam.

Chennai became home to several South Korean conglomerates, such as Samsung, LG, Kotra, Lotte and Hyundai as well several small enterprises, such as Doowon, Hwashin and Dong-Sung, that supports these big firms. The South Korean employees of these companies brought their families along when they came to Chennai and soon the communitiesrose from 100 to 3500 people. A majority of them are at  Alwarpet and Adyar area of the city.

The city has restaurants dedicated to South Korean Cuisines and the most popular in the city is the New seoul on TTK road which was opened in 2014.

Lately, TASMAC ELITE has started stocking ‘Soju’, the special wine which is made in  Korea. According to Kyi Shi at InKo centre we can walk into any elite tasmac and find it easily unlike before when it was bought in from either Delhi or Mumbai.

“We get per day at least 20 Korean customers and others too visit”, says the restaurant manager. He further adds “the most popular items are barbeque, Koreans like eating pork, fish, beef and mutton.

The Madras Korean Church, which was established 30 years ago, has more than a thousand patrons now. The church holds three Sunday services and also runs Sunday school for children.

According to the Korean Welfare Association in Chennai some 1,500-odd single Koreans work and stay in Sriperumbudur for periods of 6-12 months, while those who’ve brought their families live in Chennai for more than three years. The direct employees of Hyundai, along with its vendors and their employees comprise 90 per cent of this Korean community.

“There are also some Koreans employed in the Samsung factory here, some in LG Electronics, and in Lotte Foods, which is expanding its market in India,” a member of the association said.

The children in the community number over 600 children; they either attend the American International School in Chennai, or go to the local schools. There are students in colleges under Madras University , whose parents are not in India, and the children are studying information technology, languages here.

Sarah Yoo who runs the Mori Café and Handicraft store at InKo Centre which she founded in 2015, has been living in Chennai since 12 years now with her father who is a vendor with Hyundai motors. Sarah enrolled herself to learn English at Stella Maris College and now teaches English Language course at InKo.  

Her store is the only one selling the traditional Hanji paper (gift wrap paper) made out of Mulberry leaves which she imports from Korean. “ There is not much demands of the paper, though it’s an art form in Korea which needs specialise training to make Hanji”, says Sarah.

When asked whether the Korean restaurants satisfy her taste buds, Sarah says she and her family don’t visit any restaurants since they cook there meal at home. She adds that the restaurants are basically for single men who cannot cook food; one with family will never visit restaurants since the ingredients are available now unlike earlier.

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