From Korean food to the increasing popularity of its entertainment
industry – with K-pop stars, Netflix smash hits and Oscar-winning films aplenty
– the Republic of Korea’s cultural exports are making the whole world sit up
and take notice. And the country’s pavilion at Expo 2020 is riding the crest of
Two words are on everyone’s lips the world over right now: Squid Game. The latest Korean phenomenon,
the TV programme is one of the Netflix’s biggest ever shows. A dystopian vision
of a polarised society, the gripping series weaves a tight plot with social
satire, melodrama and gratuitous violence – attracting more than 100 million
Fortunately for Expo 2020 visitors, the aforementioned satire, rather
than violence, is at the heart of the Republic of Korea Pavilion, with staff
dressed in guards' suits to host their very own Squid Game. The Dalgona Game
Event invites guests to prise out a clean, unbroken shape from a dalgona – a
popular candy found on the Korean streets. The winner takes it all: well, a
packet of Korean instant noodles.
not just Squid Game that is spreading
awareness about the
country’s culture. Since the drama was released in mid-September, stocks in the
nation’s lively entertainment sector, spanning K-pop bands to cinema, have
boomed. The cult phenomenon was preceded by the headline-grabbing success of 2019 comedy thriller Parasite, which scored six Academy
Awards for its disturbing yet compelling dissection of the divide between rich
When it comes to tackling tough subject matter, K-pop’s most popular
band BTS don’t shy away, either. The band’s popular members reportedly raked in
a handsome USD 50 million in 2020, putting them among
the top 50 celebrity earners in the world, according to Forbes. Their
music doesn’t get stuck on love, but instead delves into issues such as
bullying, elitism and mental health. Their global appeal recently resulted in a
collaboration with Coldplay on single My
Universe, an anthem that mirrors Expo’s aim to bring worlds together.
With 34 million followers on social media, Stray Kids – the eight-member
boy group who are the official ambassadors of Expo 2020’s Republic of Korea
Pavilion, are another popular K-pop draw. Fans should mark their calendars for
January 16, 2022, when the tenacious octet will perform to mark the Republic of
Korea’s National Day at Expo 2020.
Korean food is also one of the hot trends on plates in 2021. The number
of visitors frequenting the restaurant at the Republic of Korea Pavilion –
simply, but aptly, called K-Food – are definitely testament to this. The menu
includes national delicacies such as kimchi, KBBQ (Korean barbecue), fried
mandoo (dumplings), combination pancakes, hot pots and jjigae (Korean stew).
Big on vegetables and seafood, with red meat treated like a condiment, its
appeal also extends to the health-conscious.
And while K-Food’s Chef James Kang laments how Korean food has gone
mainstream, with “too many new western fusions”, that fact underlines the
country’s constant endeavour to stay two steps ahead of the competition when it
comes to culture, food and entertainment.
The buzz around the psychedelic, colour-shifting Republic of Korea Pavilion,
one of the biggest hits during Expo’s opening month, shows that the rest of the
world is not only lapping up Korean food, but the country’s wide range of