More Than Just Kimchi: How Korean Cuisine Is Taking Over the Global Food Scene One Plate of Ramyeon at a Time

One of the popular traditional market in Seoul, Korea. A market where you can buy your lunch box using Korean traditional brass coins.

Silky, chewy, soft, and crispy — Korean food is a ballad of textures and flavors that make your tastebuds sing. While undoubtedly delectable, the surge in popularity of Korean food is relatively recent, and it owes most of that to social media.

Bangtan Senyodan or BTS member Jimin recently put the chewy, comforting street food — Tteokbokki (think spicy, saucy rice cake pasts) — squarely on the global food map. And now online food sellers like O’Foods are reporting a 450% increase in tteokbokki. However, kimchi and gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste) remain their bestsellers. Coincidence? We think not.

After all, while the names on the Korean food menu may not roll easily off the Western tongue, the ever-growing popularity of Korean media has solidified their popularity. Every other person in the United States you ask today has either tasted kimchi or at least heard of it. Gwyneth Paltrow herself featured bibimbap — a popular assorted dish featuring rice and a few sides (available in both non-vegetarian and entirely vegetarian options) — in Goop as early as 2009. And while it may have been a tad late to the party, the rest of the world is catching up to the craze. 

The Most Popular Cuisine 

Recent data from analytics company Spoonshot show that the months leading up to January 2022 show a 90% hike in interest in Korean cuisine. And now The Bucket List — an adventure tourism company — has released data showing Korean cuisine as the most popular globally. That’s right. Not Italian. Not even Indian, but Korean food is the fan favorite of foodies, at least according to social media. Of course, other cuisines were not far behind. Korean food was closely followed by Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and Indian cuisines.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs also released the results of an online survey that took into account 8,000 people from 16 cities across the world. For every ten people they surveyed, at least six knew or had heard of Korean food.

Influences on Korean Cuisine Popularity 

But why now? What makes Korean food so special at this moment that it holds the crown not just for being the internet’s beloved but for takeout lovers across the US and the globe? 

It seems that Korean popular media — including Korean pop (K-pop) and Korean drama (K-drama) — play a significant role in this phenomenon. After all, almost every K-drama features a scene — loving or heart-rending — centered around a plate of ramyeon, i.e., Korean ramen. 

The words, “Ramyeon meokgo gallae?” — which translates to “Do you want to have ramen with me?” — are quickly becoming the new “Do you wanna come in for a cup of coffee?” Rainy days make the average K-drama fan itch for a beer paired with Korean fried chicken or flavorful noodles. And we may have Netflix and its streaming platform peers to thank for it.

Social media also plays a crucial role in this. Food influencers on TikTok and YouTube have been focusing much of their energy and cooking skills on developing and binging on plates of tteokbokki, bibimbap, and bulgogi. Food challenges — like the Buldak Spicy Ramen challenge — have made Korean food — instant or otherwise — household names. Other than kimchi and tteokbokki, other popular Korean dishes include:

  1. Kimchi Jjigae (kimchi stew)
  2. Korean barbecue
  3. Korean fried chicken or half and half (half crispy and half saucy)
  4. Bulgogi (marinated strips of beef)
  5. Jjangmyeon (noodles in a fermented black bean paste-based sauce)

Aside from mainstream media and social platforms, Korean food has also come to enjoy popularity among adventurous eaters. After all, the many textures and flavors created using a masterful blend of spices and fermented condiments are quite an adventure to eat. Several Korean dishes may not be for the faint of heart or tongue. Many of these dishes are known to turn the heat up by using fermented chili paste (gochujang) quite liberally in their sauces, making these plates of delectable delights as tasty as they are fiery.

The cuisine is known to be both protein-rich and balanced, both flavor and nutrition-wise. This has brought the cuisine to the attention of the health-conscious. The variety of dishes on offer also means that there is something there for everyone, whether you are a meat-lover, vegan, or vegetarian. 

Sustainability in Korean Cuisine 

Korean cuisine is also sustainable. Every root, leaf, and bone often becomes an intricate part of these dishes, reducing food wastage and contributing to a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle.

Ultimately, whatever the reason behind its rise to stardom, the love for this cuisine shows no signs of slowing down. Perhaps it is safe to say that, much like how BTS continues to grace music charts, Korean food will keep winning hearts and tongues. And honestly? We are here for it.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks

Author: Ananyaa Bhowmik


Ananyaa Bhowmik is a neurodivergent and queer pop-culture journalist with the Wealth of Geeks. She has previously worked with brands like Sterling Holidays, Myntra, Bajaj, and the Loud Interactive. She is an independent scholar, cat parent, and performance poet. Her areas of research and interest focus on and around digital marketing, Canadian indigenous history, queerness in media, and pop-culture and fandom studies.