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Gourmet from the comfort of home: Top restaurants bring their most popular dishes straight to you

Jan 31,2020
Jjamppong, spicy noodles with seafood, from Choma. [PEACOCK]
Beef soup from Samwon Garden. [PEACOCK]
Miro Sikdang’s tteokbokki, spicy rice cake. [MARKET KURLY]
Soi Yeonnam’s rice noodles with beef. [SOI YEONNAM]
Soy sauce-marinated blue crab from Gebang Sikdang. [MARKET KURLY]
Pancakes from Sunhee’s, one of the most popular vendors at Gwangjang Market, central Seoul. [PEACOCK]
As the fear of catching the coronavirus grows, many are trying to keep the time they spend outside of their home to a minimum.

And while people cover up in masks and even gloves in public to prevent getting infected, restaurants are seeing fewer and fewer customers.

Luckily, it is now easier than ever before to enjoy delicious dishes from popular restaurants at your own dining table.

Encouraged by the success of packaged foods that can simply be opened up and poured into a pot at home, more big-name restaurants are jumping into the ever-growing world of HMR, or home meal replacements. The pre-packaged dishes were first introduced as a way to help out those who don’t have enough time to cook at home, but as the market grew, more customers were looking for their favorite dishes from popular restaurants so that they could enjoy them at anytime.

Soi Yeonnam, a restaurant notorious for having lines of people outside its doors at its many branches across Korea during lunch and dinner, has introduced its first packaged Thai-style noodle soup. The frozen meal only requires people to boil the soup and cook the noodles to enjoy a dish that tastes just like they’re eating the dish in the restaurant. To ensure that the noodles taste good at home, the restaurant has adjusted the recipe a bit and sourced noodles from elsewhere in Thailand, considering the lack of additional sauces like fish sauce or picked peppers in most people’s homes and the cooking time for frozen noodles. It’s been only a little over two weeks since the packaged item was introduced, and it has already sold out due to high demand.

The noodles are being sold on Market Kurly, one of the most popular local online shopping platforms for fresh goods and other processed foods. Kurly has recently been working with many different restaurants and introduced a variety of frozen dishes to present restaurant food at home. Other than Soi Yeonnam’s noodle dish, one of the most popular items is tteokbokki, or spicy rice cakes, from Miro Sikdang in Mapo District, western Seoul. Since its release a few months back, the particular tteokbokki dish has become the best-selling tteobokki on the shopping platform. A bowl of tteokbokki was never an official menu item at the restaurant, but it was given to regulars and close friends of the owner. After those who tried it shared their experience on social media, the particular dish has become one of the most requested items at the restaurant. Market Kurly and the restaurant saw an opportunity when people started lining up outside to try to unlisted dish.

The platform has also discovered many restaurants that are popular among frequent diners, such as Gebang Sikdang where soy sauce-marinated blue crab is sold, as well as specialty dishes from others.

The restaurant group SG Dinehill also works closely with Market Kurly. The group, which operates a variety of Korean barbecue spots as well as Italian restaurants and more, has been active collaborating with chefs outside its group to produce more diverse products ready to be easily cooked. It launched Hong Kong toast from the popular restaurant DOTZ yesterday in order to appeal to home diners who want to try food from popular chefs at home.

The company thinks that the market for the such packaged meals or meal kits will grow to be worth 700 billion won ($589 million) a year in the next five years from the current 20 billion won, quoting statistics from the Korea Rural Economic Institute. It has confirmed about 15 different restaurants to collaborate with so far and plans to introduce about 100 different packages ready to be cooked at home within the year.

“[These products] are made so that diners can take know-how from the chefs at renowned restaurants and eat the food they eat at the restaurant at home comfortably,” said Park Young-sik, president of the SG Dinehill.

Besides Market Kurly, another retailer providing the taste of restaurants to diners at home is Emart, which releases packaged meals through its own Peacock brand. While it works in-house to come up with the recipes for staples like kimchi stew or doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) stew, it has also worked with local chefs to release dishes people can easily make at home. It chooses one or two dishes that are popular from each restaurant it collaborates with, for example jjajangmyeon (black sauce noodles) from Masi China or jjamppong (spicy noodles with seafood) from Choma, so customers can get the chance to taste what everyone is talking about at home. While there were about 200 different packaged dishes available in 2013, Peacock now has about one thousand different packages for sale. Overall sales of Peacock products was 34 billion won in 2013 - a number that jumped to 249 billion won by 2018.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]