Pad Thai and butter chicken have been modified and sweetened to cater to the Western palate after their introduction to New Zealand.

But rather than modify their food to cater to the masses, Korean chefs are instead embarking on fusion creations and using ingredients from their homeland in Western restaurants.

Michael Choi, a lecturer at AUT University's Culinary Arts Department, says this has been a major contributing factor to the soaring popularity of Korean food and ingredients in New Zealand.

A K-Food Fair, backed by the South Korean Government, is being held in Auckland this Thursday to give Korean food and beverage products a boost.


According to the Korean Consulate in Auckland, Korean food retailers and some mainstream supermarkets are reporting sales increases by up to 300 per cent for Korean food products in the last two years.

Choi said fusion and Pan-Asian restaurants have played a critical role in increasing this demand.

"Young Korean chefs, mainly millennials, contributed to their 'European-biased' workplaces by introducing Korean ingredients," Choi said.

"Most of the leading restaurant kitchens now have some form of Korean ingredients, such as gochujang (chilli paste), doenjang (soybean paste), Korean chilli flakes, seaweed and so on."

Chefs were now using doenjang instead of Japanese miso, chojang instead of Thai sriracha sauce and gochujang instead of nam prik pao Thai chilli paste.

Choi named Jason Kim, a senior sous chef at Sidart in Ponsonby, and Min Baek, formerly from Merediths and who used to operate the Uniko Foodtruck, to be among the "most influential" Korean fusion chefs in Auckland.

Fusion restaurants here include Korean-inspired burger joint Tiger Burger, the Kimchi Project on Lorne St and Lucky Buddha on Fort St, which Choi owns.

He said these modern Korean-inspired dishes often lead those who have tried them to seek out more authentic Korean meals.


"Five years ago, Korean food in New Zealand was nothing more than a curiosity at best and a cliche at worst," Choi said.

"Something has significantly changed with Korean food over the last three years."

Other contributing factors include the popularity of K-pop and K-drama, and more New Zealanders wanting to experience the culture by "eating authentic".

Naomi Kang, a spokeswoman for Korean food manufacturers Ottogi, said the company was seeing a "huge spike in sales" in the New Zealand market.

"Sales for products such as instant noodles, marinades, sauces and others have rapidly increased in the last few years," she said.

There are about 30,000 Koreans living in New Zealand according to the most recent census, and 22,000 live in the Auckland region.

Rebecca Kim from the consulate said Thursday's "invitation-only" fair was part of the annual Korean Festival, and is aimed at generating greater demand for Korean food and wine products.

The annual event also includes a Korean film festival that will run from Oct 19 to 22 and free Korean food tasting, samplings and demonstrations at selected supermarkets including Pak'n Save and New World.