Convenience food ruled at 2023 Coex Food Week, an expo that focuses on the food industry as well as culture and trends in South Korea.
While dedicated to promoting business-to-business opportunities, the food expo is also open to the public. This year, it kicked off Wednesday and runs through Saturday at Coex in southern Seoul.
On Wednesday, visitors flocked to booths offering free samples. Perennial favorites included tteokbokki, dakbal, or fried chicken feet, dumplings and pizza.
Convenience was what the visitors were drawn to. Staff were cooking instant food and meal kits on site, emphasizing that their dishes could be cooked in minutes.
"Our products guarantee not only taste, but also convenience. In a single meal kit, rice cakes and gravy sauce are covered all at once. No additional ingredients are needed. You can just cook them in boiling water," said an official from Misslee, a local food company that specializes in sauces.
"These days, we're also seeing an increase in the number of foreigners buying our tteokbokki kits as they are getting interested in cooking it themselves after watching it on K-drama shows," the official added.
Convenience food and snacks to accompany drinks were popular among younger people.
"I prefer to drink at home because dining out is too expensive," said Hong, 34, who wished to be identified only by her surname. Hong said that she lives by herself in a small studio in southern Seoul while her parents live outside the capital. Having a drink alone after work or with her friends at home is a pastime, Hong added.
"I bought the grilled gopchang (pork intestine) package because I thought it would be simple and easy to cook," said Hong.
Meanwhile, working moms who juggle their careers with raising children were found at booths featuring frozen meals. While they did not necessarily value the taste or ingredients highly, they said they often purchase frozen food for their children.
"Frozen meals as well as meal kits are very helpful. Using them, I can cook very quickly in the morning. They are also very handy for my children to prepare while I'm at work," said Han Seon-hee, 47, who has two daughters and works at a trading company.
A preference for frozen foods was attributed at least in part to the widespread popularity of air fryers. Recently ubiquitous air fryers allow consumers to easily cook frozen fried chicken, pizza, nuggets and dumplings without a bulky oven.
"I can cook frozen pizzas or dumplings with an air fryer. My mom works at her office so she often stocks many such frozen foods in case she has no time to take care of housework," said Kim, a 15-year-old middle schooler visiting with friends.
In addition, convenience foods featuring seafood such as abalone porridge and raw crab marinated in soy sauce also grabbed attention.
According to the event organizer, over 800 companies and 1,300 booths are participating in the exhibition, which is expected to attract some 50,000 visitors.
Tickets for entrance can be bought via Naver or on site for 15,000 won.