He’s a Hindi-speaking Korean chef in India whose Instagram fusion-food videos have gone viral – Kim Jiyeol on how cuisine ‘brings people together’

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But he’s not a full-time food influencer – rather, Kim is the official chef at the South Korean embassy in New Delhi, where he landed in 2019 after professional cooking stints across Europe and Australia.

Kim’s chicken wing momos, inspired by the Nepalese dumpling. Photo: Kim Jiyeol

Now the passionate cook’s home is India, a country he finds “colourful” and its people warm. He ranks paneer palak, dal, dosa and chole bhature (a dish of chickpea curry with a fluffy fried leavened bread) among his favourite Indian dishes.

Throughout his culinary research, he has also found overarching similarities between the cuisines of India and South Korea, and their peoples’ obsession with spices and gravies.

When I came down to Delhi, I had a tough time looking for quality ingredients

Kim Jiyeol

“Like the Koreans, Indians too are big on bold flavours,” Kim says. “They also love condiments like pickles, just like we love our kimchi. That’s why both cuisines are known to deliver a flavour kick.”

Kim says among his most-loved gastronomic creations have been fusion dishes like kimchi-stuffed chicken kathi rolls (flatbread wraps) and Indian breads infused with Korean seasonings.

Kim’s popularity has risen further since he started doing voice-overs for his cookery shoots and more in-depth YouTube videos.

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His tiny south Delhi kitchen – which mimics a research and development lab – is his happy space, he says, always abuzz with culinary experiments.

These experiments aren’t always smooth, the chef explains, primarily because sourcing authentic Korean ingredients in Delhi is difficult.

“When I came down to Delhi, I had a tough time looking for quality ingredients,” he says, adding he would hunt for produce at markets all over the city. “After a long time, however, I did manage to locate two which are now my go-to places.”

A selection of Korean dishes by Kim. Photo: Kim Jiyeol

However, occasionally the chef still needs to travel further afield – even to other cities – to find what he needs.

Without the fresh and flavourful ingredients he says are crucial to the heart of Korean cuisine, taste and authenticity are compromised.

Kim often documents his trips to local markets, where he relishes interacting with vendors.

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The chef believes that cooking is an inclusive craft as “it helps break down geographical barriers and brings people together”.

His collaborations with local celebrity chefs have also piqued online interest. In a recent cooking session with Gurkirat Singh, a MasterChef India finalist in 2023, the pair collaborated to make chilli paneer with a Korean twist.

To create this dish, instead of Indian spices, they use gochugaru (chilli powder) and gochujang along with soy sauce and oyster sauce.

While rising geopolitical tensions across the world are dividing people, culture (especially food) is becoming the glue to unite them

Anthropologist Minu Kakkar
In another post, Kim can be seen collaborating with Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk and Korean temple food chef.

“Temple food is a world-famous vegetarian food, and I think it’ll help me grow a lot in the future, including the monk’s cooking philosophy and understanding of ingredients,” reads Kim’s caption.

With his amiable personality, Kim has helped spread the message about his country’s culinary culture beyond Korea.

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In May 2023, he headed a Korean food pop-up at The Westin Kolkata hotel to mark the 50th anniversary of Indo-Korean diplomatic relations, for which the chef prepared signature Korean dishes such as chicken tteokgalbi, dubu tangsuyuk, mushroom bulgogi, dubu jorim, dak galbi and saengseon gui.

A big fan of Indian culture, Kim says he loves celebrating local festivals by cooking festive treats.

In March, he wowed his Indian followers by making gujiyas on Holi, a colourful Hindu festival. The flaky, deep-fried pastry filled with khoya, nuts and dried fruits is a festival staple, and Kim aced the challenge as he fried them to crispy perfection.

The chef has also shared a video where he shows viewers how to make spring onion kimchi.

However, it was no ordinary video – what caught the interest of viewers was the chef’s narration in Hindi.

“Just want to really appreciate all the videos you do and also so much effort you put in speaking in Hindi to reach a bigger audience,” read one comment. “Thank you and kudos to you!”

Apart from cooking, the chef’s other passion is travelling. His love for globetrotting has taken him to more than 40 countries. This year, Kim’s wanderlust took him to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, France and Hong Kong while last year’s highlight was a Turkish sojourn.

Apart from visiting local attractions, Kim also reviews eateries in the new destinations triggering comments and likes – and also suggestions about where to dine – from his large social media following.

Experts say that a heightened Indian interest in Kim’s food is an offshoot of the surging popularity of South Korean pop culture. Korean dishes like kimbap and kimchi are increasingly seen on menus as well at many fine-dining restaurants in the country.

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Food is also intrinsic to many narratives in Korean dramas and visiting restaurants that serve Korean cuisine have become a popular choice among Indian fans of K-pop.

“We try to go out at least once a month for a nice Korean meal,” says the 35-year-old.

Anthropologist Minu Kakkar acknowledges Korean culture’s increasing resonance across the world.

“Be it K-pop music, K-drama or Korean food; it’s all part of the ‘ Korean wave’,” she says. “And this augurs well because while rising geopolitical tensions across the world are dividing people, culture (especially food) is becoming the glue to unite them.”

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