Halal food at a Turkish restaurant in Seoul. (Photo: Lim Yun Suk/CNA)
South Korea has launched a halal food agency in a bid to expand its food exports to the Middle East and Muslim countries. But in the country itself, the halal food industry seems lacking.
Here is an inside story from Channels News Asia;
Kervan Turkish Restaurant is far from being packed during lunch time, even though it is among the more famous Turkish eateries in the capital Seoul.
The restaurant serves halal food, which means every dish is prepared under stipulation in Islamic Law. However, not so many clients know about it.
Many Koreans visiting the restaurant said they came here because they wanted some good Turkish food, while some of its patrons said they have no idea about Halal.
"Halal? I don't know it at all. I enjoy Turkish food in general so I brought my friend along with me."
NOTHING BUT KEBAB
In South Korea, finding a decent halal restaurant can be a challenge, and the choices are limited.
"In other parts of Seoul, it is only kebab. In Namdaemun or Myeongdong, you can only get kebab. For a proper restaurant, it is only here in Itaewon," said a patron from a Muslim country.
Of more than 100 Muslim-friendly restaurants in South Korea, around six have met the local criteria set by the Korea Muslim Federation, according to Kervan's manager Mr Mehmet.
"Without this restaurant, it’s really hard to find halal food," he said. "There are some restaurants that sell halal food but otherwise, you cannot get Halal food from the markets."
LIMITED AND PRICEY
In South Korea, halal restaurants are centred around Itaewon, near the country's main US military base. The area has become a popular district among foreigners and Koreans who seek a diverse restaurant scene. But not everyone is happy.
"We had rice and half a chicken for around 10,000 won (US$8.93). It is a bit expensive for us but we have to eat so we don't have much choice," said a Singaporean tourist.
The situation is not any better for Muslim students studying in South Korea. The country has two colleges that offer halal food, and one of them is Hanyang University.
"In this restaurant, they sell halal food. But I think they do not prepare sufficient quantity, perhaps because they have some difficulty in getting halal food? I don't know why. The menu for halal food is also the most expensive compared to other menus," said a patron.
In South Korea, the majority of the 135,000 Muslims are students, teachers and migrant workers. Muslim tourists are also an important target for the government, as they try to push for more halal food choices as well as products to welcome them.