Seunghui Mulhern’s Korean ‘Seoul Food’ proving a big hit in Derry
A new Korean food business is bringing unique cuisine and health benefits to the people of Derry.
SeoulFood is an authentic food business which delivers the taste of Korea directly to your doorstep.
Seunghui Mulhern comes from Haenam in South Korea, and has been living in Derry with her husband for 14 years.
“I had two weddings, one in Korea, and one in Derry,” she said.
“When we moved to Derry, we had our wedding here. I was in a traditional Korean dress, and Colm was in an Irish kilt. My best friend came over to be my bridesmaid, and also my daddy and mammy. The wedding was in January, so it was grey and kind of cold and wet.
“It was my family’s first visit to Derry. My brother visited Derry a couple of times more in summer, so he has seen good weather as well. But when my mum came again it was when I gave birth to my first child, which was around Christmas. I had to tell her that Irish weather is not all bad.
“We met in Korea, he was teaching English and I was teaching English, but I was his student. He had adult classes for more informal conversation. I wanted to improve my English. I was teaching Korean children grammar, and for exams. I wanted to be more natural, so I attended his class. He came to Korea after the World Cup in 2002.”
Seunghui and her husband Colm were together for five years before they moved to Derry in 2007. Whilst living here in Derry, Seunghui has noticed a connection between Korean and Irish people. She believes both countries share a similar history.
“As far as I know, there’s one other Korean, and she lives in the Waterside. She is also married to a Derry man, there’s just the two of us! If you know any other Koreans let me know. I miss talking to Koreans in person.
“I like Derry, I find it very similar to Korea. As I get to know more about Irish history and politics I feel more affinity. First Americans came to Korea in the early 19th century, they described Korea as ‘Ireland in Asia’ or ‘the second Ireland’. I agree. They drink a lot!
“But that’s not all, because there is a very similar history as well. Ireland and Korea were both colonized by neighbour ing countries. Despite centuries of aggression, people maintained strong resistance to their rulers and kept their national identity. But sadly, both countries are still divided.
“I’d like to introduce a special Irish person: George Lewis Shaw, He owned a trading company in China and helped the Korean independence movement during Japanese colonial rule. His story inspired many Korean movies. After the Korean war, there was nothing but rubble. Some Columban priests came to Jeju Island in Korea and helped to fight poverty primarily through agricultural training. One of them is Father Patrick James McGlinchey from Raphoe. I was so surprised that I live near his hometown. He spent his whole life serving the underprivileged. He was called ‘blue eyed saint’ in Korea.”
George L Shaw was born on the Pagoda Island of Fuzhuo, China in 1800, and died in 1943. He was the eldest son of an Irishman, Samuel L Shaw, and a Japanese woman, Ellen O’Shea Shaw. George L Shaw first visited Korea in the early 1900s, working as an accountant. In 1963, the Korean Government honoured Shaw by granting him the Order of Merit for the National Foundation.
Father Patrick James McGlinchey was a Catholic missionary who volunteered to help Korea modernise their farming of livestock. He was decorated by the Irish and Korean Government for the part he played in helping Korean farmers out of poverty.
“In 2018 Father Patrick McGlinchey died aged 89. He spent 64 years on Jeju Island in South Korea,” Seunghui said.
“The Seoulfood menu offers a selection of traditional dishes, including the famous Korean side dish called ‘Kimchi.’
“This style of cooking blends salted and fermented vegetables, such as cabbage, ginger, chilli and spring onion. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in Kimchi can provide important health benefits.
“I lived with my granny and I was born in Haenam. It is at the end of a peninsula down south.
“This area is very famous for delicious food. I lived with my granny there until I was six or seven, then I moved to Gimpo, which is my mum’s hometown. My mum was a good cook and that’s how I learnt. Then when I was 20 I started to live by myself, so I had to cook. There are so many different ingredients in Korea. More options to choose. I liked going to famous restaurants and trying out how to adapt a new menu.”
Seunghui hopes to one day open up an authentic Korean restaurant in Derry. These types of restaurants are unique, and offer a personal experience in dining.
“In Korea there is a stove in the middle, like a charcoal fire burner. There’s a grill on top of it so you can cook yourself.,” she said.
“One thing I was surprised by is that Ireland is covered by the sea, and Irish people don’t eat much seafood, I was surprised. There are a handful of meats you can get on the land, but the sea, just heaven! Oysters are a famous Irish food, but I hardly see any restaurants serve oysters on the menu. In Ireland there’s so many delicious things out there, I wish people were more adventurous when it came to food. I heard that most quality Irish seafood is exported to other European countries. That’s a pity. But it is nice to see more different kinds of restaurants appear in Derry recently, including me. That’s a good sign for Derry people.”
‘Gimbap’ is a popular rice dish in Korea. It is known as soul food and it is enjoyed by people of all ages.
Customers have a selection of different Gimbap styles and fillings, which is similar to the Japanese cuisine Sushi. Gim is dried sheets of seaweed, while bap means rice. Seunghui describes the dish as ‘picnic food’.
“The texture and flavours are so different from one to another, so there is more choice for people.
“More ingredients means more nutrients. I wanted to bring authentic Korean food, so I don’t change ta lot to local tastes,” she said.
“Quite a few people have the experience of Sushi, so it’s not totally new, but generally Sushi uses raw fish and one or two simple ingredients. The Gimbap has plenty of vegetables inside and more choices. I thought Gimbap is a good menu to start with.
Kimchi is packed with nutrients, also there is live bacteria in it called probiotics.
“That’s what makes the Kimchi flavour unique. It’s kind of sour and tangy when it’s fermented. That sourness comes from probiotics, same as yoghurt. 70% of our immune system comes from our gut. So eating gut-friendly food is very important.
“If you’ve a healthy gut this means your immune system is good. I want Derry people to experience how good it is. People who have diabetes or higher blood pressure, and people with underlying conditions, need to be careful what they eat. In Korea, food is as important as medicine, especially for those who have underlying conditions.
“Traditionally Koreans have a strong belief that food can prevent or treat illness. In a way it is similar to homeopathy. Kimchi is a perfect example.
“It is good for the skin, good for constipation or bowel movements, reduces inflammation, slows aging and helps weight loss. It is also good for heart and mental health as well. If you don’t eat, then you won’t know. I hope people can get to know Korean food and enjoy the benefits from it.”
Using the Seoulfood website or Facebook page, customers can pre-order a day in advance. Seunghui prepares everything in her kitchen and delivers it to your home the very next day. You can also collect your order at a designated pickup point. Seunghui is the only chef at Seoulfood and operates out of her home in Glenowen.
“I’m the only person from start to finish,” she said.
“If business goes well and people get to know about it more, then I would like to teach people how to make Kimchi so they can make their own at home. Kimchi is like spuds for Korea.
“Every single house has Kimchi. Culturally we eat rice and several different side dishes. That’s how we eat, all separate. With Gimbap, it is like Korean fast food. In one roll you have everything in it. For people who are busy, like office workers or students. It’s easy to eat, no mess or crumbs. It’s so handy.
“People are more conscious about the environment and the planet. So more people are turning to vegan or vegetarian, and not only for the health reasons. Avocados use so much water, that there are Mexican gangs involved.
“It wasn’t that popular 10 years ago. In South America, they cut trees and forests to plant avocado. It destroys the planet. The mass meat industry is kind of the same.
“There are also animal welfare issues. I feel relieved that Kimchi is free from those troubles. I like that most Derry people are conscious about it, so free range eggs and locally produced meats are more popular than cheaper food factory production.
“It is nice to see sheep, cows and horses grazing in fields. It is so normal and natural here, but I think Irish animals are very lucky. With Kimchi there is just one tablespoon of fish oil, that’s it! It is a vegetarian food.”
Seunghui sources her ingredients from local Asian and Indian stores. Due to the confusion around the NI Protocol, she is hopeful that Brexit will not affect her business.
“In January when Brexit hit Northern Ireland, I wasn’t able to bring some of my ingredients because they are not available in Derry,” she said.
“A Korean supermarket in London stopped taking orders from Northern Ireland due to a complex custom process.
“So I had to travel to Belfast or even Dublin. It wasn’t easy for me to do that because I have three young children.
“I am able to get a supply from London at the moment. I hope it doesn’t happen again, or I will probably have to get them from Korea. There is a chilli paste called ‘Gochujang’. It is a Korean chilli sauce which is becoming very popular in Derry. A local shop owner said that as soon as it is on the shelves, it disappears. It’s a good sign for me.”
Seunghui originally sourced chicken eggs from a friend of hers who lives in Sheriff’s Mountain. Up until recently, the supply ended due to foxes preying on the livestock.
“There were 10 hens and one rooster. The fox got six hens and the rooster. So I can’t get any eggs from her right now, it’s a pity I know,” she said.
“I like to use more local ingredients as much as possible. It’s a special meaning and is special for me as well. It’s Korean food from my birthplace, but then made with Irish ingredients; the combination of food is symbolic for me.
“Eventually I’d like to have a restaurant and have the wee grill on the table, like a barbecue.
“Dried seaweed is called ‘Gim’. I know that Korean Gim is the best in the world. When tourists come to Korea the first thing they buy is Gim. In the top 10 most popular items tourists buy, number one is Korean Gim. If I don’t like it, I don’t want to make it for other people either.
“When I make food I only make food that I can give to my children. Freshest ingredients and the best quality of ingredients I can get. That’s my philosophy. That is my pride.”