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Michelin Guide Busan vexes locals, food experts

Michelin Korea Managing Director Jerome Vincon, 17th from left, poses with chefs of restaurants in Seoul and Busan recognized by the Michelin Guide during an annual ceremony held in Busan, Feb. 22. Yonhap

Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, joined the Michelin Guide last week, taking the first step toward becoming a global gastronomic destination. The inaugural edition, which recognized 25 selected restaurants, 15 Bib Gourmand establishments and three one-starred restaurants, had heightened expectations among local food industry insiders and epicureans of bringing the spotlight to Busan’s iconic culinary heritage and spurring development of the food scene outside of Seoul. However, many question whether the long-awaited inaugural selection can serve as a “true gourmet guide” to those who wish to explore the southeastern port city’s rich and iconic food culture. According to food columnist Park Sang-hyun, the selection “fails to reflect Busan’s regional identity and promote the city as a gastronomic destination.”

“Michelin Guide tends to recognize restaurants that reflect the regional identity and unique stories in its list of Bib Gourmand and selected restaurants, but the Busan edition shows they didn’t have enough understanding of Busan as a city,” Park said, underscoring the lack of regional cuisines in the selection .Although Busan has a relatively less developed fine dining scene compared to Seoul, the port city’s geographic characteristics — accessibility to fresh maritime ingredients and proximity to neighboring Japan and Russia — as well as unique historical background as Korea’s cultural melting pot that housed millions of war refugees during the 1950-53 Korean War, stand out as assets in the restaurant industry. Thus, its historic restaurants serving local delicacies, especially the famous “milmyeon” (wheat noodle) that blends North Korean culinary legacy brought by refugees with the influence of the U.S. occupation in the region, were expected to make it to the prestigious selection.

However, no milmyeon places were selected, while it did include a restaurant serving “naengmyeon,” or Pyongyang-style cold noodles, which is relatively less preferred in Busan, and three pork rice soup eateries. “The talk of the town here is, why didn’t milmyeon make it to the list? And how come Pyongyang-style naengmyeon did? And why didn’t this or that pork rice soup place make it?” an industry insider said on condition of anonymity. “It’s questionable whether Michelin’s list of Bib Gourmand and selected restaurants will help foreign travelers to truly experience and understand Busan’s history and culture,” he said. The two experts agreed that Michelin’s Busan list will most likely look “unconvincing” to Busan natives and Koreans who have a deep understanding of and love for the region’s food heritage. This is in contrast to the case of Seoul’s Bib Gourmand list, which has garnered widespread consensus among local 안전 tastebuds.

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