On the outskirts of Seoul, in a narrow alleyway of the city’s historic shopping district, is a small cafe.
The owner, a bearded man in his 60s, is talking about barbecue.
He has never seen an Asian barbecue grill before.
The meat is cooked with a wood-burning charcoal grill that sits on a stone grill.
“It is a traditional Korean barbecue,” he says, pointing to the red-tipped flames and white, wooden spoons, like a Korean cook.
“This is my third barbecue.”
“This will be the first barbecue I ever eat in my life,” he adds, smiling.
“I have never been to a Korean barbecue grill.
I was a vegetarian for most of my life.
And I’ve never been able to enjoy this barbecue, until now.”
It is hard to imagine the cuisine of the South Korean peninsula today without the influence of the country’s communist government, and a generation of young Koreans who have never eaten a traditional South Korean meal.
This is the main reason why barbecue is so popular in the country.
According to the South’s national barbecue festival, held annually every two years, the average family size here is around 300 people, making it the largest barbecue festival in the world.
Many Koreans enjoy cooking on their barbecue, but not without the assistance of a kitchen that has become the national institution in the past decade.
It is not unusual for families to have around 50 people cooking for themselves.
And they can be seen cooking together on television or in social media.
“Bars are very important in the Korean family, but also in the South,” says Jang, the restaurateur, sitting on the terrace of his shop in a quiet street outside the historic shopping street.
“People love the idea of having family.
When they have a barbecue together, they can do that all day long.”
The food is also an important part of the celebrations.
“For me, the barbecue is more than a social occasion,” Jang says.
“A barbecue is an important social activity.”
The popularity of barbecue in South Korea has not only grown during the past two decades, but has also attracted foreign food producers.
For example, during the Korean Olympics in February, South Korea hosted the Games on the Korean Peninsula, where the country hosted the opening ceremony.
It also hosted the World Cup in July, and is preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in the same city.
But there is another reason why the country has become a barbecue powerhouse: a thriving Chinese market, which is a major source of income for the country, says Kim, the chef.
“The Chinese food industry in South KOREA is growing at a rapid pace, because of the barbecue,” she says.
The country is the second-largest importer of Chinese meat in the region, after the United States.
The demand for Chinese barbecue has driven up prices for traditional South Koreans, with some restaurants charging as much as $300 for a plate of ribs, a dish which traditionally was eaten at weddings.
“In China, we eat traditional Korean meals and barbecue,” Kim says.
She estimates that 60% of the Chinese population in South Korean cities is in the habit of eating traditional South Korean food.
“Many people in the Chinese restaurant industry are now starting to offer barbecue and Korean food,” she adds.
“We are the only barbecue restaurants in South East Asia, and we are the biggest in the market.”
With this market, the Korean barbecue market has seen a surge in sales in recent years.
But not everyone is happy with the new trend.
“There are a lot of complaints about the high price of Chinese barbecue,” says Choi, the owner of Jang’s restaurant in the city centre.
“Most of the people here are in their 20s and 30s.
They don’t have the money to pay for barbecue.”
Some restaurants in the centre of Seoul have closed down because of a lack of customers, and many restaurants have been forced to shut down due to the high cost of food.
In addition, the market is facing an influx of new Chinese customers.
A Chinese company, China Beef Restaurant, opened a new restaurant in Seoul in June, and the owners claim that the demand for Korean barbecue has grown from 300 customers a day to over 300 a day.
“South Korea has been a great market for Chinese food in the last 10 years,” Jangs restaurant owner says.
“We can easily compete with the Chinese market for barbecue.
We can take away a lot more of the customers than we are losing now.”
The South Korean government is trying to encourage the local food industry to diversify its offerings.
The government has introduced a new law that makes it mandatory for local restaurants to buy the same type of food and ingredients used in Chinese restaurants.
“Chinese food has always been the mainstay of Korean barbecue and Chinese restaurants have always used Chinese ingredients,” Kim explains.
“But now, with the increasing number of Chinese restaurants in Seoul, we have