A Bulgarian-Korean Friendship from the First Bite of Kimchi

A Bulgarian-Korean Friendship from the First Bite of Kimchi

In Bulgaria, people say that in order to get to know someone and call them your friend, you need to eat at least one bag of salt with them, because it takes time, and more precisely, time spent around the table – the heart of every family and the framework of each friendship. It is no coincidence that we celebrate every holiday around the table, and pay special attention to the festive menu – a topic occupying a lot of minds especially now, with Christmas approaching. Despite that, people also say that one should not argue about tastes – since they vary from continent to continent and from person to person.

However, in the case when the tastes match and food casts its delicious spell upon two people, it is a sign that the stars have aligned into a promise of a true friendship. This is exactly what they had foreshadowed for Yoana and Helen, whose story begins on two adjacent balconies, on the top floor of a typical flat building in Sofia.

Helen is originally from Korea, but she had lived for a while in France and Canada before deciding to settle down in Bulgaria. She had her heart set on our country after seeing a TV program about it, and then, after visiting for a vacation, she fell in love with our beautiful nature, the peaceful way of life and the kindness of the people here. A chef by profession, she organizes cooking classes that reveal the delicious secrets of the Korean cuisine. It is at her home where Yoana first explored Korean food and fell in love with it from the first bite.

Yoana is a graphic designer whose creative pursuits soon led her to Asian art, Korean illustrators and k-pop. We can imagine her excitement, when she found out that her new neighbors are native to this same culture. In fact, their children were the first to approach each other, while playing on the adjacent balconies, and soon the adults followed in their steps.

Sometime there, between the first kimchi bite and the afternoon lessons in hangul (the Korean alphabet), between the experimenting with spicy foods and marinated silkworm pupae bugs (번데기) and Helen’s tireless enthusiasm to represent Korean culture in every way possible, but at the same time to learn more and more about Bulgaria, a true and strong friendship was born. From a participator in the culinary courses, through an assistant at the fast food restaurant Cup& Roll, Yoana became an irreplaceable partner in Helen’s endeavors and in her latest and most ambitious project so far – the restaurant Cup&Roll Center, located in the heart of Sofia, not far from the National Palace of Culture. 

The Cup&Roll Center restaurant is created as a true bridge between Bulgarian and Korean culture, revealing the charm of Korea through all kinds of art, while traditional and contemporary join hands. The unforgettable design of the place is inspired by the Korean traditional go-stop cards, the k-pop pours from the big screens and the karaoke machine, while beautiful Korean hanbok costumes await for the visitors to try them on and take photos. And of course, the Korean food prepared with great care, expects the visitors, ready to conquer all the senses.

Yoana is the “Bulgarian voice” in this project, as she shares herself. She is the first one to try the Korean dishes on the menu and to assist in adapting them to the Bulgarian taste. Although, it turns out that visitors are utterly eager to try new and unfamiliar things, and are not even a little bit afraid of the spiciness of the Korean cuisine. Everything on the menu is prepared with an extra care for the details and it is always beautifully presented. Helen and Yoana confirm the impression, which one gets from Korean cinema and literature, that the more eastward one goes, the more people there prefer a more indirect approach and are more careful with their words, allowing their acts and gestures to speak louder. For example, Koreans would not indulge themselves in long explanations of their feelings, but would put special efforts to reveal them through small gestures of care, such as preparing a box of home-made food and arranging it beautifully into cute figures. That kind of attention and care is evident both on the table at Helen’s home, as well as on every table in the restaurant.

On the Eve of New Year, Helen’s wish is to continue to represent Korean culture in more and more different ways and through an even greater variety of events, while Yoana dreams of finally having a chance to visit the distant land of Korea for herself, hopefully in the company of Helen. We can only wish them to fulfill their dreams and continue to present us with the opportunity to enjoy Korean culture and food!

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