Azlan Othman in Seoul, South Korea
It is often not easy for Muslim travellers to find appropriate food or prayer rooms in non-Islamic countries. However, there are quite a few Halal and Muslim-friendly restaurants in Seoul, South Korea, that allow visitors to keep to their dietary restrictions while enjoying their stay.
From the bustling tourist attractions of Myeongdong to Halal spots in Itaewon, one can find yummy Muslim street food. Itaewon is also a place where Muslim tourists can experience authentic Korean dishes, such as samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), bulgogi (bbq meat) to mul naengmyeon (Korean noodles in chilled broth). All meals are prepared in a Halal manner at these restaurants.
Today’s Korean food is more accessible than ever before for Muslim tourists. A booklet called ‘Muslim Friendly’ was introduced by the Korean Tourism Organisation to help Muslims to make appropriate choices.
Categories for Muslim-friendly Restaurants include ‘Halal Certified’, by the Korea Muslim Federation (KMF); ‘Self Certified’ where all foods are Halal and restaurants are certified as Halal by Muslim owners and ‘Muslim Friendly’ category.
For Muslim travellers, some Korean dishes contain ingredients that are inconsistent with Halal traditions. To make Korean food accessible to a global audience, a cross section of popular dishes has been categorised to help Muslim travellers make informed dietary choices.
Itaewon, Seoul’s trendy expat town is packed with Korean and international restaurants and regularly frequented by Brunei students studying with several universities in Seoul. In an interview with the Bulletin recently, President of Bombay Grill Restaurant located in Itaewon, Seoul Javed Iqbal said that many Bruneians – including students studying in Seoul universities – frequent Itaewon, and he said it has dozens of Halal restaurants.
“There are about 35,000-40,000 Muslims in South Korea,” he said.
“I must admit it is not easy to find Halal chicken here as the slaughter house is located more than an hour’s drive from Seoul, while beef is imported from Australia. However, there are about 25 Muslim friendly restaurants around Seoul.”
Javed noted that the Muslim population is increasing in South Korea, and added, “There is a mosque located in Seoul called Seoul Central Mosque which can accommodate around 3,000 worshippers at one time.”
He said, during the last Friday of Ramadhan, some 1,000 worshippers are treated to a free meal for the breaking of fast or Iftar, for which three tonnes of Basmati rice are cooked at his restaurant.
Javed said, this tradition began five years ago. Meanwhile, in a recent interview with ASEAN media, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea Park Yang-woo said, “What is also most necessary are prayer rooms and Halal restaurants.”
“The government has designated 70 Muslim friendly restaurants for the convenience of Muslims, and there was also a Halal Restaurant Week campaign last year,” he added.