Since it began sweeping the region from the turn of the century, the South Korean culture wave (‘hallyu’) has gained a mass following in South East Asia through its pop music (K-Pop), movies, television series (K-drama) and games. Hallyu has scaled further heights over the past two years basking in the success of the Korean film ‘Parasite’ at the 2019 Oscars and Korean pop music band BTS topping global billboard charts in 2020.

Owing to the country’s economic affluence, the sophisticated lifestyle and high-quality exports, Korean goods have made a good impression on Indonesians. This ties in with the findings of GlobalData’s 2020 Market Pulse survey, wherein 65% of Indonesian respondents said that they somewhat or completely trust products made in or imported from Asian countries (excluding China)^.

An entire generation of Indonesians who have grown up on Korean dramas, music and films have subsequently developed an interest in the Korean culinary culture (K-food) and cosmetics (K-Beauty), among others. While Korean food initially struck a chord with Indonesian consumers on account of the novelty of its recipes, textures and plating styles, it has retained its charm over the years owing to the shared affinity for spicy and sharp flavours among Koreans and Indonesians.

Hundreds of Korean eateries have popped up in Greater Jakarta over the past decade, popularising traditional K-food delicacies such as ‘bibimbap’ (rice bowl with assorted vegetables and meat), ‘bulgogi’ (grilled marinated beef), gochujang (red pepper paste) and ‘toppoki’ or ‘tteokbokki’ (spicy rice cake). Tapping into this trend, many Indonesian foodservice operators are introducing K-food inspired offerings. For instance, McDonald’s Indonesia in early 2019 rolled out a limited-edition pop-up menu with ‘Black Rice Cake McSpicy’ and ‘Spicy Rice Cake Chicken Rice’. Accordingly, Indonesian imports of Korean seasonings, sauces, dried seaweed and spicy noodles have risen significantly in recent years.

Food processors are also tapping into the K-food and hallyu phenomenon by introducing products inspired by Korean cuisine. For instance, in April 2021, Indomilk released a TV commercial encouraging Indonesians to break their Ramadan fast (‘Takjil’) with Korean food topped with its sweetened condensed milk. The Miwon Group introduced its Mamasuka brand of ready-to-cook Korean Rice Cake Topokki and its Delisaos brand of topokki sauces, both with the added benefit of Halal certification, which is a key requirement for the predominantly Muslim country.

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The trend is mirrored in neighbouring Malaysia, where the youth are equally enamoured by Korean drama, fashion and food. A spate of restaurants including Seoul Garden and Pullman Kuching serve localised versions of authentic Korean fare such as ‘kimchi’ (spicy picked cabbage). Recently, leading convenience store chain, 7-Eleven Malaysia capitalised on the popularity of the Korean boy band BTS, by unveiling an exclusive BTS HY Coffee range with two limited-edition RTD coffee variants – Cold Brew Americano and Hot Brew Vanilla Latte. e-commerce portals such as 11street offer Korean spices and sauces to cater to the consumer interest in experimenting with Korean recipes at home. The consumer interest in novel culinary preparations while cocooning at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic is captured by GlobalData’s 2020 COVID-19 Recovery consumer survey, wherein, as of the end of 2020, almost two thirds (59%) of global population somewhat or strongly agreed that they intend to experiment with new cuisines and recipes+.

Korean food fusion fads are also taking root in the West, partly due to its novelty and partly for its perceived healthy recipes. Ultimately, the K-food and hallyu trend exemplify the opportunities for exporting and commercialising authentic culture in a globalised world.


^GlobalData 2020 Market Pulse Survey – Indonesia published in September 2020

+GlobalData 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Recovery Consumer Survey – Global – Week 11 of 11 published in December 2020