If you happen to pass by Delhi’s Gung! The Palace on Monday nights, you’re likely to hear strange sounds coming out of its rice-curtained rooms. You’ll hear the sound of wet napkins hitting the wall. And then this chant: “Aja! Aja! Aja! Fighting!”
No, it’s not a spitball war among 12-year-olds. Nor is it some ritualistic war chant.
It’s the “hurricane bomb”, a drinking game played by Korean businessmen to relax on workday evenings.
This is how the hurricane bomb goes: Mix half a pint of Fosters and a shot of Shochu (a sake-like wine from Korea). Cover the glass with a paper napkin and hold it over the glass. Flick your wrist twice to wet the napkin. Throw the wet napkin on the wall. Pass the glass to the colleague on your left. He must glug the mixed drink down at one go. When the wall is dotted with napkins, it’s time to head home.
In the eight months since its opening, Gung! has become a meeting place for Koreans living in the Capital. The low tables, the drinking, and the slow-roasting barbecues laden with pork at this restaurant remind them of home. And of late, the number of expatriate Koreans in Delhi has grown substantially.
The entry of large Korean firms, such as Samsung, LG and Posco, has brought a large number of Koreans to Indian cities. Chennai has been home to many Koreans since the Hyundai plant opened there in 1995, but Delhi and Bangalore have become the new hubs, with Korean restaurants, shops and clubs opening up.
Jun Berm Park, 42, arrived in Bangalore in May 2006, transferred by Samsung in Seoul to one of their India offices for a few years. He can’t stop raving about Bangalore’s beautiful weather and how he doesn’t feel even a little out of place in the city.
Park was eased into the new city partly by the Korean Association in India (KAI), a group which has its headquarters in Delhi and chapters across India to help Korean families stay in touch with their community and adjust to life in a new country.
KAI was formed around 50 years ago, when three Koreans moved to New Delhi after being released from prison in their war-torn country. Today, the association has nearly 3,500 members in Delhi alone. KAI president Kim Myung Bo recently took over from the original founding president, Hyuan, whose home is still Delhi. Unlike Hyuan, though, most Koreans in India, such as Park and his family, are here only because of their jobs and leave after three or five years.
Yuni Lee came to Delhi four years ago when her husband’s company, Samsung, transferred him to Delhi. She and her family, like many in the Korean community in the city, have settled around Delhi’s Vasant Vihar and Green Park neighbourhoods. She’ll likely only stay for one more year. “Sometimes, I think it’s good that I know I’ll be here only for a short time. I can be an observer and be detached about things such as the country’s political situation. But, sometimes I feel a little guilty, too, about not being involved,” she says. Lee is part of a group of mothers of Korean students at the American School, New Delhi. They meet regularly to discuss school issues.
Jin Bum Kim, the owner of Gung!, belongs to DUSK, the Delhi University Students of Korea association. Around 40 Korean students are members, many of them doing a bachelor’s or master’s in economics from Delhi university (DU). They wanted a foreign education, but did not want to go as far as the US or UK for it.
Kim says the association is really helpful for students because the transition is often very difficult: “Fifty per cent come and fail because of the language barrier. We can read English, but conversing in English is a problem” (though English reading and comprehension is taught in Korea, few people there regularly converse in it). Kim’s mother, Suk Hee Kim, runs Gung! with her son and is often seen speaking in Korean to everyone around her, including her staff who don’t speak Korean.
Some of New Delhi’s Korean expats are intent on learning Hindi. Professor Shrish Jaswal, director of the Central Institute of Hindi, says that over the past two or three years, there’s been a sudden increase in the number of Korean students at the institute—around 45% of all students are now Korean.
Jin Bum Kim and his staff at Gung! (Zackary Canepari / Mint)
Some of them are DU students who want to learn Hindi for business purposes, but the other students are mothers with children attending schools in the city. “They are keen that their children learn the local culture,” Jaswal says. Some of these children struggle with Hindi and English, but often, after they master both these languages, their Korean skills slip. Lee says that her son spoke Korean very well when he started kindergarten here but, after four years at the American school, she’s worried about his Korean language when he returns to school in Seoul. KAI helps with difficulties such as this by publishing its bimonthly magazine, Namaste India, written almost entirely in Korean. It also keeps readers updated on community events such as the Korean Sports Day held in January or the music festival held in February at Siri Fort. Bo says KAI also has these events to share Korean culture with Indians.
It was a desire to share their own culture with Indians that motivated Kim and his mother to start their restaurant. Suk Hee Kim was an art teacher in Korea, but when her husband’s job at the Korean embassy brought them to Delhi three years ago, she thought of opening a restaurant and decorating it Korean-style. “It’s not just about the food, but also the pictures and the pure Korean traditions that we try to keep up here,” she explains with the help of a translator.
In Bangalore, the community is not nearly as large as the one in Delhi, but Soo Ra Sang, Eom Hie Yong’s Korean restaurant in the city, is flourishing. Her first year, four years ago, was a struggle and she almost shut down due to lack of interest from locals. A few loyal customers convinced her to keep going. When Korean employees from companies such as LG and Samsung made Bangalore their temporary home, her business began to look up.
The restaurant gets a good mix of expatriates. Yong says that most Korean families prefer to cook at home and venture out only to try other cuisines, but she does get a large number of businessmen during lunchtime on weekdays. “I have rarely met the spouses of the professionals who come here,” she says.
According to Yoon, who moved to Delhi a year ago with her husband, an executive with Posco, most wives of Korean professionals spend their time pursuing hobbies, especially golf. In Delhi, two “Korean friendship” golf courses, JP and Classic, admit members for a limited period, in keeping with the short time that most Korean families spend in India.
Park and his wife also play golf with around 30 other couples in Bangalore. He says that since there still are not that many Koreans in India, there is a greater need to meet up with one another. Though, over the past couple of years, he has made some good Indian friends as well. The trick, he says, is his wife’s Gim-bab roll, a rice treat that his Indian friends seem to love. “They love it so much, we have passed on the recipe to many,” he says. He even passed it along to us .
IN SEARCH OF SHOCHU AND SEOUL
The best stops for Korean food in Delhi and Bangalore
Gung! The Palace: Seating in private rice-curtained rooms, meat cooked on crystal barbecues at tables, and plenty of Shochu to go around.
D-1B, Green Park, New Delhi
A Mart: A Korean grocery store with a range of noodles, dried fish and candy
A-1 Mahipalpur Extension, NH8, New Delhi
Kum Gang: This 8-year-old Korean restaurant serves an array of delicious Korean treats.
Ashok Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, 50-B, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi
Hae Kum Gang: It’s a complete experience with silverware, bamboo shoot decorations in the background and hosts who surprise you with complimentary desserts.
20, Paul Castle Street, Ashok Nagar, Bangalore
Soo Ra Sang: Close to 12 different side dishes are served with the main course in this restaurant.
1, Kathalipalya, 6th Cross, 6th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore
Add a dash of Korea to your life with Jun Berm Park’s recipe
6 pieces of dried laver (seaweed)
K cup of pickled radish
K cup of razor clam flesh
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 cucumber, sliced thin
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of vinegar
1 tbsp of sugar
Steam the rice. Mix sugar, salt and vinegar. Pour this into the steamed rice and mix it well with your hands. On a sheet of dried laver, spread the rice mixture out to cover the laver. Place a slice of cucumber on the rice. Then place a slice of carrot. Layer the other ingredients. and roll the laver into a tight conical shape. Cut the Gim-bab into bite-size pieces and serve.
(Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story.)