The smell of fresh, homemade Korean food and the sounds of lively chatter and buoyant Korean pop music filled the ground floor of Shea House — the University’s multilingual language immersion student housing complex — Saturday afternoon.
This celebration — known as Taste of Korea — is the Korean Student Association’s largest annual fundraiser in which student officers cook a variety of homemade Korean dishes for attendees, each priced at $1 per serving. Approximately 200 members of the University community attended the event.
“Taste of Korea is basically [KSA’s] annual event ... to just show the community what Korean food is and to offer an outlet for people who are missing Korean food,” said Valerie Young, KSA vice president and third-year College student.
Taste of Korea was set up like a restaurant on the ground floor of Shea House, which contains a kitchen and dining area with tables. When attendees entered the dining area, they received menu slips that they filled out to indicate what they wanted to order before seating themselves. KSA officers operated as servers, taking the slips to the back of the dining area where all of the prepared food was set up and brought to attendees at their tables.
Lauren Eller, KSA fundraising chair and a fourth-year College student, emphasized the convenience of the event’s format.
“[Attendees] can order … as much as they want,” Eller said. “We make their plate, and it's all ready to go. So it's super fast and very cheap. They just eat ... pay and then leave.”
Menu items included authentic Korean dishes like kimchi fried rice, buldak chicken, tteokbokki or chewy fried rice cakes stir-fried in spicy red sauce, mandu dumplings with the option of either a vegetable filling or beef and vegetable filling and jumukbap, a round ball of rice containing seaweed flakes, spam and other types of seasoning. According to Young, this year’s Taste of Korea menu featured a greater diversity of dishes than it has in years past.
“Usually ... we offer pretty typical, basic Korean foods, but this year we've added more to our menu,” Young said. “We've added this one item called jumukbap, which is ... not really a food you would usually see at … Americanized Korean restaurants. So we're trying to add a little bit more of a twist to this event this year.”
Additionally, this year’s menu included a deal on a drink called Sikhye, a sweet Korean drink made with barley malt powder, sugar and rice that is usually served as dessert. If attendees spent $5 or more on dishes, they were given a free serving of Sikhye.
Planning for the event began at the end of last semester.
“We made our preliminary menu … last November, and then room booking happened probably in January,” Eller said. “We first came up with the menu … based on what we liked and what we didn't like from last year and what was profitable for us because it is a fundraiser.”
The process of preparing the food began a week before the event. A few days before, Eller drove up to Fairfax, Va. to pick up the necessary ingredients, as most of the dishes on the Taste of Korea menu required ingredients that were not sold at local Charlottesville grocers. After getting the ingredients from Eller, KSA officers cooked the event’s dishes — some of which were prepared using instructions on ingredient labels and others using recipes from home — at their apartments the day of the event.
In total, putting on the event cost about $500, drawn from KSA’s other fundraising efforts and concession sales throughout the year. The funds raised at Saturday’s event will go toward the club’s spring culture show, K-EXPO, which will be held in March.
KSA spread the word about the Taste of Korea using a variety of different advertising methods.
“In addition to Facebook event marketing and changing our cover photos and our profile photos, we've also been flyering around grounds,” Young said. “And some people [made] memes, videos and TikToks just to promote [the event].”
First-year Engineering student Wen Ip, who attended Saturday’s event, heard about Taste of Korea through Facebook.
“I heard about the event from Facebook because all of my friends were liking it … so I decided to come because my other friends were coming too,” Ip said. “I just wanted Korean food that was cheap, so that’s why I came … the food was really good, so I think it was a success.”
First-year College student Angela Deng expressed similar sentiments but also suggested a few structural improvements that could be made in the future.
“I think the overall event is pretty good, and I think the food is good too, I just wish ... they could [have kept] it hot,” Deng said. “The [Vietnamese Student Association event] that we went to, they had someone who would come and actively take our order. I think that would have been better, but overall, I think the organization was good.”
According to Eller, Taste of Korea is a valuable cultural event both for its organizers and members of the community who attend.
“In Charlottesville we have a lot of Asian restaurants, but I think a lot of people miss that real authentic Korean food from back home,” Eller said. “I think it's really valuable to have an event like this where we have culturally accurate food … where we can spread our culture to other people, not just people who miss home but also those who have never experienced it before … I think it's really valuable both to the Asian community and people outside of it as well.”