[News] Restaurants go Hallyu

he tourist boom fueled by the Korean Wave is nothing new. Nor is the impact of the hit television series "A Jewel in the Palace" on the popularity of Korean cuisine abroad.

Hallyu stars and their dramas have become an effective medium through which to attract tourists, primarily from Japan, China and Southeast Asia.

The continual influx of Hallyu fans into Korea has spurred the proliferation of Hallyu-related tourist attractions, including restaurants run by the stars and entertainment companies that stand at the epicenter of the Korean Wave.

The increase in such eateries has given Hallyu fans the opportunity to enjoy cuisine inspired by their favorite dramas or dine in restaurants run by their favorite stars during their trip here.

Here are three Hallyu-related establishments -- one a karaoke-meets-restaurant venue -- that fuse two major components of the Korean Wave: food and entertainment.

S.M. goes gastronomic

S.M. Entertainment, the entertainment and media group that spawned K-pop icons TVXQ! and Girls' Generation, opened multi-entertainment space "e" last September.

A five story -- plus a basement floor -- complex where fans of S.M. Entertainment's stars can sing, dine and splurge on idol paraphernalia, e attracts visitors from all over Asia.

"20 to 30 percent of our customers are Hallyu fans," said an S.M. Entertainment representative, who said cites Taiwanese and Chinese tourists as a big part of the entertainment space's customer base.

Even though it is a weekday afternoon, quite a few Asian fans are checking out the wide range of star souvenirs on sale on the second floor.

Souvenirs run the gauntlet from SuperJunior mirrors to TVXQ! blotting paper for the face. Several of the items on display already sport sold-out signs, evidence of the overwhelming popularity of the paraphernalia and the K-pop icons who grace them.

In mid July, "I STAR SHOT" -- a sticker photo booth where fans can take pictures that feature their favorite stars -- opened. Up until Aug. 9, SuperJunior star shots were available. Starting this week, visitors can get glossy snaps that feature the boy band SHINee.

The snack bar, e-block is slated to open in mid August, says an S.M. Entertainment representative. According to S.M. Entertainment Food and Beverage Team Leader Kwon Yong-ki, e-block will serve up yogurt ice cream, noodles and tteokbokki made from two different kinds of chili powder.

Customers can drop by e.table for upscale Korean cuisine. Located on the fifth floor, the cozy yet chic joint dishes out elegant fare, but not before inducting customers into the world of Korean cuisine with a complementary glass of "makgeolli" (rice wine).

"Kimchi is brought in from Jeolla Province," Kwon attests to the high quality of the ingredients used at e.table. "No MSG or artificial food additives are used."

Excellent judgment is used in both the presentation and seasoning of each dish. Yuzu marmalade and two kinds of chili powder play up the sweet flesh of the butterfish, while imbuing it with a citrusy fragrance and a bit of kick.

While e.table alone merits a visit, S.M. Entertainment's "everysing" -- their karaoke space -- lives up to its name.

Three floors worth of colorful and clean karaoke rooms offer major perks to K-pop fans and aspiring singers.

Fans can request rooms that SuperJunior, Girls' Generation, SHINee and TVXQ! have filmed in, check out making-the-video montages of their favorite stars and sing songs where the choruses feature the voices of the K-pop singers.

Aspiring singers will be pleased to know that all the songs sound like they are straight off the album, meaning that guitar chords, real voices and pianos, etc. will be playing in the background.

"Our karaoke system uses real sound, so that our trainees can practice," an S.M. representative explained. "Our artists come with their friends frequently to sing and practice."

In regards to the current legal action taken by members of TVXQ! against S.M., the representative stated that it would not affect the sales of TVXQ! paraphernalia or the use of TVXQ! songs at e.

Mr. Tears hits Myeong-dong

In mid-May, Hallyu star Kwon Sang-woo opened a coffee shop in tourist hotspot Myeong-dong.

On a weekday afternoon Kwon's TEA'US is brimming with Japanese customers. While the storefront and stairs leading up to the cafe sport life-sized pictures of the "Stairway to Heaven" star, the spacious shop itself is surprisingly devoid of Kwon paraphernalia.

Photos of him are stealthily hung here and there and a secluded area to the right showcases montages of the star on an LCD screen.

Hardcore fans can still get their Kwon fix by nibbling on cookies and cupcakes that bear edible pictures of him.

"Fans tend to know when Kwon Sang-woo is here," said TEA'US director Kim Yoon-kwan.

When asked how, Kim divulged the secret to catching a glimpse of the star.

"Because he always comes when there are not many people," said Kim, who stated that Kwon visits his shop on a near daily basis.

"When he isn't busy he visits the shop once a day and supervises the employees, checks the menu -- and also develops and tastes new items," Kim elaborated.

Kwon's involvement in the menu resulted in the creation of three special teas, each bearing a reference to the star and "Mr. Tears" -- the nickname given to him by his Asian fans, after which the shop is also named.

"Kwon Sang-woo tried each tea," said Kim. "He selected three teas that truly reflected his tastes, him and that suited his image and made them into special teas."

Titled Natural Tears, Mr. Tears and August Five (in reference to the day he was born), the three blends top the menu hanging above the counter.

The August Five blend incorporates the tang of yogurt into the brew, which suits the slightly bitter green tea base of the drink.

Natural Tears fuses apple, hibiscus, peach and apricot for a fruity brew, while Mr. Tears blends rooibos and orange peel.

The gelato, which is made at TEA'US, is respectable. The Bon Bon, in particular -- a luscious chocolate-based Italian ice cream with a nutty flavor -- is good.

According to Kim, their gelato and waffle dessert is one of their most popular dishes.

A mug bearing the slogan, "Taste coffee, tea and him," is on sale for those who want to take home a souvenir.

'Sikgaek' restaurant open

The set where scenes of the restaurant Unamjeong were filmed for the hit SBS drama, "Sikgaek," was transformed into an upscale restaurant and opened its doors on July 10.

Located in High1 Resort in Gangwon Province, the restaurant features elaborate courses that start at 35,000 won, including a multi-course meal based on dishes featured in the original comic book series that inspired the drama.

"I believe the 'Gourmets Set Meal' is the most popular," said a High1 Resort representative.

According to the representative, 90 customers a day visit Unamjeong, sampling delicacies like red sulfur duck and badger.

Dishes are served up on artisanal pottery, which, according to the representative, is collectively worth 370 million won ($302,50).

Guests can also experience the art of ceremonial tea-making and take a stroll through the scenic grounds.

Korea Herald

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