From Bibimbap To Idli-Sambar: The Korean Takeover Of Chennai

From Bibimbap To Idli-Sambar: The Korean Takeover Of Chennai
(L) The Hindu ; CN Traveller (R)

Late American author Steven R Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” What he said will probably hold true till the end of time, but at a time when the world is more globalised than ever, it makes the most sense.

Communities from far and wide have collided and collectively created somewhat new ones altogether – a symphony of communities, if you will. India has been home to such symphonies too – the Siddi community dispersed over South India, a few thousand Portuguese people in and around Goa, and so on. One such community that might still be in the early stages of creating their mark is that of the Korean community in Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai.

Unlike what many might think, the ties between the two regions (Korea and South India) actually go as far back as to the first century! Without delving into the history and timeline of the cultural ties, it must be emphasised that the two countries share attributes of the ‘Karak’ Dynasty, Buddhism, trade of spices, jade and pearls via the Silk Route, and of course, the shared love of sandalwood. Tamil and Korean, too, showcase several similarities that point to a definite close relationship between the two.

In 1996, auto-giant Hyundai opened one of its manufacturing units in Sriperumbudur, some 40 km south of the capital city, Chennai. This is possibly what marked the inception of the formation of an Indo-Korean cultural confluence since companies such as LG and Samsung established themselves here too. Smaller establishments such as Lotte Confectionery (parent company of Havmor ice creams), Shinhan Bank, and Cheil followed suit. As Koreans relocated to Chennai with work purposes, their number in the city grew into thousands. In 2013, Business Line reported that there were 4,000 Korean expatriates in Chennai. 7 years hence, we can only imagine how grossly that number would have proliferated.

If you were to visit Chennai today, you would be welcomed to various Korean restaurants scattered throughout the city with billboards containing text in Korean. People from Korea were quick to take to Chennai’s vibrant, loud and enthusiastic culture. InKo Centre in Chennai is an entity that aided this shift — the establishment holds events, performances and competitions that celebrates the richness of both the cultures in a manner that is both, inclusive and collaborative. In fact, it is backed by Hyundai.

Along with their abundant presence at South Indian eateries, the Korean expats also seem to enjoy the beaches and golfing. Students from Korean universities often visit Chennai and participate in voluntary activities like teaching and clean-up drives around the city. Such cultural exposure at an age that is able to truly learn from experiences do a lot to boost the nature of the relationship between the two communities. Overseas, too, Koreans are able to understand and welcome South Indian traditions, culture and overall, what makes us, us. The efforts are far from one-sided. Korea reciprocates the affection in many ways, too. The University of Korea, that once only offered a certificate programme in Hindi, now offers a course in Tamil too.

Korean populace present in Chennai has moulded itself bit by bit to adjust and adhere to South Indian ways, and that’s not all, over the course of years, the Tamilians have also responded with nothing but respect and adoration. Korean food, music, art and traditions are no more a thing of novelty to the residents of Chennai.

This particular symphony of communities is a marvellous example of just how we should interact with each other. No community is larger than or a complete stranger to another – in belief, identity or existence. The love you give is the love you receive, and such a unique blend of people showcasing this in practice is the affirmation the world needs.

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