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Home away from home: A taste of the Pacific on Gurgaon platter

gurgaon Updated: Dec 26, 2017 16:39 IST
japanese koreans in gurgaon,south korean gurgaon,Gurgaon expats

The Seela Food Mart in South Point Mall at the Golf Course Road offers popular Korean food items such as Kimchi and Soybean paste, while it also having locally-manufactured products on their shelves.(Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

It was in the year 2011, that Myeong Hee Cho’s sister, then a student at Delhi University, suggested she leave her home in South Korea and move to Gurgaon, to open a restaurant that could cater to the increasingly large South Korean community in the city, as well as its local residents.

“Since my sister had been studying here, I had a vague idea of what India is like. She told me there was scope for the business to really take off, and I took her word for it, and moved here,” said Cho, whose restaurant, MyungGa located in South Point mall, has been serving authentic South Korean food for the last six years.

Apart from delicacies, like rice cakes and dried seaweed rolls, Cho has adapted her menu to serve “spicy” food that may add to the appeal for Indians who arrive at her restaurant to give the food a try. The latter, she says, constitute 20% of the clientele for the outlet. The journey, however, has been far from easy, with hurdles ranging from administrative issues to continuous changing laws, the owner said.

“The rules and regulations governing the setting up of a restaurant themselves are so complicated and tedious, that even getting the license for my outlet took a lot of patience,” Cho said.

“The dietary prohibitions also keep changing, which means we continuously have to adapt our menu. The beef ban, for example, limited our options a lot.”

Korean family Jin Ho Park and In A Lee with their sons, Joo Won and Joo Hwan in Gurgaon. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)
“We moved here seven years ago. I opened this store to pass my time. We mainly have a Korean clientele, but a lot of Indians come here.”

Cho’s restaurant, however, isn’t the only option for residents of the city looking for authentic food from the Asia Pacific region. In the same building where MyungGa stands, authentic Japanese food is offered at Manami, a restaurant headed by a Japan resident Tomiyama Ryji, who has two other branches in the National Capital Region (NCR) itself, in Manesar and in New Delhi.

The close proximity of the outlets serves as a metaphor as many residents of these two neighbours in the Pacific sea have, miles away from home, found themselves at each other’s doorsteps once again.

According to the data available at the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) in Gurgaon, there are more than 8,000 Japanese people, and 3,000 South Koreans currently living in the city. The two communities have become so prominent that they now have magazines in their languages, to help new arrivals settle in and make older residents aware of the latest developments and options in terms of luxuries, cuisine, and entertainment.

Most South Korean and Japanese people, reside in the gated condominiums on the Golf Course Road, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, and the new sectors. One of the main reasons for their presence in the city is the fact that Gurgaon district houses several multinational companies native to the two countries such as Hyundai, Samsung, Honda, Mitsubishi, LG, Toyota, and Suzuki.

Korean family Jin Ho Park and In A Lee with their sons, Joo Won and Joo Hwan in Gurgaon. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

Ryoichi Yamamoto, a native of Japan, is among the many people who have moved to Gurgaon as a result of this setup. The director of Keyence Corporation, Yamamoto has been residing in Aralias, a gated condominium in DLF5, along with his wife, Nuntika Saengkaew, for the last three years. Prior to this, the family had been in Chennai for two years.

“We had never been to India before we moved here and were slightly apprehensive about certain things, especially safety. However, we have found it is a relatively easy place to live in, and people are by and large friendly,” said Saengkaew, whose social circle in Gurgaon is a reflection of the extent to which the expat population has integrated with the locals.

“I have many Indian friends here, who have introduced me to the local culture and cuisine. I have learned how to make biryani.”

“I have many Indian friends here, who have introduced me to the local culture and cuisine. I have learned how to make biryani from one of my friends, and have attained an interest in Indian art and literature,” she said. Over the last five years, the couple has spent a lot of their weekends exploring the country, travelling to places like Amritsar, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and Jaipur. While in the city, Saengkaew’s husband, meanwhile, has also been training students in Kendo, a modern Japanese martial art form, going to a school in Vasant Kunj for the purpose, along with other Japanese residents. In another gated condominium in DLF5, namely Magnolias, resides, In a Lee, who hails from South Korea and first moved to the city in 2014, with her husband, Jin-Ho Park, who works at a private company. The couple also has two sons, a 16-year-old Joo-Won and 12-year-old Joo-Hwan Park.

Prior to their arrival, the family said they had to spent a fortnight eating primarily “curries” for their meals, in the hope of accustomizing themselves to the cuisine of the country. Settling in, however, they say, was much easier than they expected.

While Jin-Ho said that Indians are “easy to work with’ as a result of their hard work and non-egoistical natures, his wife boasts of a social circle that includes many local residents.

“I have a lot of friends here. I have been exposed to a lot of aspects of life here, which I may not have known otherwise. I go for dance classes and yoga classes with them, and have even learned how to make chapattis,” said Lee, adding that she is also fascinated by “big Indian gatherings”. Her older son, said, “I love the beat of Punjabi music and have also learned Bhangra”.

Japanese national Ryoichi Yamamoto along with his wife Nuntika Saengkaew (above) have been residing in Gurgaon for the last three years. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

Several malls in Gurgaon, apart from cafes and restaurants offering cuisine from the two countries, have stores meant to cater specifically to the needs of the communities, with shelf after shelf lined up with authentic Korean and Japanese items, including everything from food to cosmetics.

The Seela Food Mart in South Point Mall offers Korean products like Kimchi and Soybean paste, while it also including some local items on their shelves. What started as a hobby for the owner, Yoon Jungae, a resident of Belaire, in DLF 5, has been in this business for three years now.

“We moved here seven years ago. I opened this store to pass my time. We mainly have a Korean clientele, but a lot of Indians come here to purchase items such as tofu, sticky rice, and pork,” said Jungae.

“The weather was a big factor for us. The temperature keeps fluctuating and goes from one extreme to another. That took some time to get used to.”

Life in Gurgaon, however, both South Koreans and Japanese said, does not go without problems.

From air pollution to the weather issues, they say, take a while to get accustomed to. “We were expecting problems such as safety, but pollution has proven to be a real issue in our day to day lives here. We have had to install air purifiers in every room to ensure our health remains unaffected, to some extent,” said In a Lee.

Myeong Hee Cho, meanwhile, said, “The weather was a big factor for us. The temperature keeps fluctuating and goes from one extreme to another. That took some time to get used to.”

Jung Min Woo’s little South Korean bakery, which now has two branches on the Golf Course Road itself, became the reason for her husband and her prolonged stay in India, even after her children completed their education and moved on.

Set up in 2010, the bakery now boasts of a clientele of which 70% is Indian.

A visit to its South Point mall branch on any given day, however, is a quick way to also get an idea of the true strength of the community of expats hailing from the Asia Pacific in the city.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 16:39 IST