South Korea in London: Fan Dancing, Taekwondo and Kimchi

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Writer Jennifer Barclay covers South Korea for our World in London challenge:

I fell in love with South Korea during three months travelling around the country, recounted in my book Meeting Mr Kim: or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi, and more than 10 years later, I’m still fascinated. Thankfully, there’s plenty of Korean food and culture in London.

Korean Festivals in London

Festivals and food are two things Korean people love and do very well, so the annual summer Korean Food Festival is a highlight of my calendar. Held in New Malden, a South London suburb which is home to around half of the 40,000 or so Koreans resident in the UK, the event is always busy with a mix of Londoners and dominated by sizzling smoke from the beef barbecue and other delicious aromas created by local Korean restaurants. It’s not all eating: there’s often a taekwondo display and traditional music performance, gradually descending into karaoke as afternoon turns into evening.

Taste the East Festival started up last year by Tower Bridge. And the Korean Residents Society usually holds a summer festival in Kingston honouring the British Korean War Veterans who turn up proudly in uniform; I’ve seen a mesmerizing fan dance there, and kimchi-making demonstrations – that’s a traditional Korean dish made of a pungent mix of cabbage, garlic, ginger, onion and hot red pepper.

Korean Food in London

I’m addicted to the spiciest Korean foods and even though I try to sample all the restaurants scattered over central London, I find myself returning to old favourites when in need of a satisfying bowl of soup and noodles or rice. Between Tottenham Court Road tube and Denmark Street is St Giles High Street, a little bit of central London that is forever Korea (I hope). Opposite a Korean and Japanese supermarket are Woo Jung and the tiny Seoul Bakery – both cheap and cheerful eateries, the latter with scrawled messages all over the walls from happy customers.

Korean Culture

Just off Trafalgar Square, a traditional old building has been completely transformed inside with wood panelling and funky chandeliers to create the Korean Cultural Centre, where I like to catch a new contemporary art show every couple of months. There are regular talks and free film nights on Thursdays and there’s always a theatre, dance or art show or a touring musician in town.

The best for me are the Korean drummers for their energy, stamina and sheer sense of fun. So I couldn’t believe it when Jeung Hyun Choi from the drumming troupe Dulsori started to teach Korean drumming in London and actually let me loose on an hourglass drum! Try hitting both ends differently – in time – and remembering the words to shout along with fellow drummers. The experts make it look so easy.

Most Koreans are proud of their culture, and are more than happy to invite others to join in. Part of the fun is making new friends. You just might learn to love kimchi too!

Find out more about Korean London on Jennifer’s blog or follow her on Twitter.

Tell us where else you can find South Korea in London in the comments below.


  1. Jenny says:

    I recommend Cah-Chi in Earlsfield. Delicious Korean food and not very expensive. They don’t take cards so make sure you have enough cash with you. I tried kimchi for the first time there last week – although it was a bit spicy for me!

  2. Waldorf London says:

    This is a “must-see” event.If you want relaxation or adrenalin or seeing beauty:-the music, Teakwondo and costumes will certainly give you just that. It starts normally during the November period but you have to stay posted so you dont miss out.

  3. Julia Park says:

    I will have to hop over to London and check out New Malden, here in Amsterdam there isn’t a real presence of Koreans, but luckily a couple of Korean supermarkets. So, I think you will be seeing me over there real soon!

  4. Jennifer Barclay says:

    For anyone wanting to know more about Korean events in the UK, THE site to visit is!

  5. Lilac says:

    Great post, I’ll be following this blog for Korean food tips in future!

  6. JAn says:

    So what’s the best Korean restaurant in London? Specifically, where makes the best bibimbap?

    • Best Korean restaurant in London? There are so many! I had great meals recently at Ran (Great Marlborough Street) and Myungga (Kingly Street), which my Korean friends think is excellent – they also like Kaya on Albemarle Street. I’ve not yet tried the new Bibimbap Soho which I’m sure does a great bibimbap – it’s getting great reviews! Asadal is also very nice (Holborn Station). Some people might prefer the restaurants in New Malden, though… A restaurant that shall not be named serves bibimbap with cold boiled egg – not so nice!

  7. JAn says:

    Fantastic! I’ve been to Asadal, but not any of the others. Bibimbap Soho is being tried and soon – and then all the others.

    I find that most restaurants here don’t serve the bowl hot enough so the raw meat/egg doesn’t cook as nice and the rice doesn’t get that lovely crust.

    Maybe after the bibimbap I can find a good bánh mì and life will be that little bit more complete.

  8. Coin Street says:

    For all contemporary Korean art lovers!

    February 24-25
    Bargehouse, Bargehouse Street, London SE1 9PH
    Admission FREE
    Open daily 11am – 6pm
    Open til 8.30pm on Friday!

    The 4th 4482 [sasapari] exhibition represents the largest ever showcase for Korean contemporary artists living and working in London. This year, entitled ‘Rhizosphere: Directions in Motion’, it presents the latest work from 60 artists at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, a cavernous 4-storey building located in London’s South Bank cultural quarter by the River Thames.

    Highlights of the exhibition include work from the cutting edge talent, Dari Bae, who has crafted an intricate glass chandelier where inside, instead of conventional light, is human hair. (see image above)

    Since 2007, 4482 [sasapari] has continued to highlight and document the works of an increasing number of South Korean artists in London. All participants created their works in Britain with Korean emotion and artistic talent. It aims to represent the cross-cultural dialogue in which the artists are inevitably engaged and is mirrored in the group’s name, 4482 (pronounced sasapari in Korean), a combination of the Korean and UK international dialing codes.

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