[코리안 디아스포라 국제 학술 컨퍼런스] Transnationalism and Korean Diaspora: On Transnational Culinary Dynamism 2

2019.04.12 /

This article was written for 'Korean Diaspora International Scholarship Conference' held to commemorate the Centenary of March First Independence Movement and the establishment of the Korean provisional Government.


4. Joseonjok and Lamb Skewers


Another interesting case of Korean diaspora’s transnational culinary practice is Joseonjok’s engagement in lamb skewer business in China and other countries. This has been visibly prominent in South Korea and Japan, where many Joseonjok trans-migrants operate lamb skewer business. Lamb skewer, of course, was not Joseonjok’s invention. It was Uighur from Xinjiang region who introduce this food to Joseonjok in Yanbian in the late 1980s. Uighur street vendors came there and sold their traditional lamb-skewers on the streets of Yanji City. Very soon this food gained popularity among Joseonjok people and some entrepreneurial Joseonjok started that their own lamb-skewer shops. They would sell lamb skewers with beer (which Uighurs do not deal due to their being Muslims) and also even with karaoke. Later, when the lamb skewers became more popular, some Han Chinese also jumped into this business. Joseonjok, however, were the most successful in this business because it is Joseonjok who have strong consumption culture of eating and drinking.

They first used wooden skewers as Uighurs did. Later, someone started using bicycle spokes for skewers (my Joseonjok informants in Yanji and Osaka). Soon, they used more professional equipment and tools for the barbecue. In particular, they mechanised the grilling process. Poongmu (豊茂) Restaurant was the first shop in Yanji that started to use the mechanised lamb skewer. More complete mechanisation occurred in 2011. Now Poongmu has many branches in all major cities of China, South Korea and even in Japan.

The Poongmu shop in Namba (Osaka) started as a very small shop, but soon the shop moved to a much nicer and bigger shop as it became really popular among Joseonjok customers. In the beginning its customers were mainly Joseonjok, but now there are Han Chinese and Japanese customers as well. In South Korea Joseonjok people also opened many lamb skewer restaurants. Joseonjok really “globalised” Uighur lamb skewer with various innovative measures.

5. Goryeo saram and “Soviet Korean” cuisines


From Vladivostok to St. Petersburg and from Novosibirsk in Siberia to Tashkent in Central Asia Korean foods such as kimchi and seasoned vegetables (namul) are sold in markets today. Some of these “Korean” foods did not look like the food of contemporary South Korea and these foods were identified as “Korean” food by locals. In any regards, the most well-known and popularly consumed “Korean food” in the former Soviet Union included kimchi, kelp salad (miyŏk much’im or kelp seasoned with vegetable oil, garlic and other seasonings), eggplant salad (half-boiled and cubed eggplants seasoned with vegetable oil and other seasonings), carrot salad (Koreiskiy markobiy or shredded carrot seasoned with vinegar, vegetable oil and salt).


In the case of Soviet Koreans and the spread of their food among the peoples of the Soviet Union, the unusual migration experience and history of the Soviet Koreans made it possible. As Koreans and Russians settled closely to each other in the early stage of their migration to the Russian Far East, there were quick exchanges of food between the two peoples. Koreans learned bread, cabbage, and tomatoes from Russians and quickly incorporated them into their diet. From Koreans Russians learned the customs of eating miyŏk (kelp), which was abundant in the seas of the Far East, and rice from the Korean settlers. Sea weed was not something that Russians and other Europeans used to eat, but in the Russian Far East they began to consume it in a form of salad. They gave miyŏk an interesting name: “marskoi kapusta” (“marine cabbage”). This was the first phase of the culinary exchange between Russians and Koreans in the Russian Far East.


The second phase of the spread of the Korean food to the other regions of the Soviet Union occurred after the late 1930s and this happened in a slower phase in the beginning. The forced deportation of Koreans in the Russian Far East to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia in 1937. It was in Central Asia where Korean diet changed again and their food was introduced to other peoples of Central Asia including those who were deported there from the European part of the Soviet Union. Koreans also learned food culture of local Kazakhs and Uzbeks. For example, Koreans learned the plov (pilaf), national dish of Uzbeks while Uzbeks and other ethnic groups in Central Asia eat kimchi and learned various vegetable dishes of Koreans.


The third phase, in which Korean food was even more widely spread throughout the Soviet Union, occurred in the period of the 1960s and onward. This overlaps with further dispersion of the Soviet Koreans to many other parts of the country, particularly to the European parts of the Soviet Union. The death of Stalin in 1953 brought some freedom to the society and ethnic Koreans, who had been deported to Central Asia were now allowed to move to other places for study and work. Many Korean families utilized this new freedom and engaged in seasonal market gardening or truck-farming, which they called kobongjil (Kwŏn & Khan 2004; Kim 1993; cf. Kim 1983). Many other Koreans went to big cities such as Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. Korean students also went to various smaller cities such as Minsk, Riga, Kazan, and Odessa and so on. After their graduation, like any other people of the Soviet Union, government would send them to work any place where there was demand for work force. This resulted in further dispersion of the ethnic Koreans of the Soviet Union, which also promoted the wider spread of their food, and this time more corners of the Soviet Union, where Korean food were not known until then.


There is, however, another reason for this unusual “globalization” of the Korean food in the former Soviet Union, and that is related to the general culture of the Soviet Union including its rather peculiar culinary culture. The general culture of the Soviet Union was characterized as collectivistic, proletariat-centered. It was also oppressive in general even though the intensity of the oppressiveness varied depending on the internal and external political situations of the times. During the Stalin’s reign (1927-1953), which also included the war time of the World War II the atmosphere was more repressive than earlier era under Lenin’s leadership. Nevertheless, it was the time when the Soviet culture developed rapidly as the country and peoples were more integrated through forced migrations, collectivization, and rapid industrialization (cf. Service 1999).