Kerry Visit Sends Humble Eatery's Business Soaring

Customers have been crowding a small eatery in an outdoor market in Seoul since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped by there to taste tteokbokki or stir-fried rice cake in spicy chili paste last week.

"I came here for a taste after I heard that Kerry stopped by," said one customer.

The 12 seats inside the small restaurant were all full last week, as were six more chairs outside -- twice the average number of customers the eatery used to get prior to Kerry's visit.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tastes tteokbokki or stir-fried rice cake in spicy chili paste at an outdoor market in Seoul on Feb. 13. /Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tastes tteokbokki or stir-fried rice cake in spicy chili paste at an outdoor market in Seoul on Feb. 13. /Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul

According to the owner, a group of foreigners stopped by a few days before Kerry's visit, three American men and a Korean woman, and tried two kinds of tteokbokki -- one with soy sauce and the other with red pepper sauce. They asked the owner when she closes. When the owner asked why, they said they wanted to bring another friend who is traveling to Seoul from "far away" and might be stopping by a little late.

The next day brought U.S. Ambassador to Korea Sung Kim, who came with embassy staff.

On Feb. 13, Kerry visited the eatery around 7:20 p.m. after meeting with President Park Geun-hye at Cheong Wa Dae just up the street. Even then the owner had no idea Kerry would be visiting.

Escorted by the U.S. ambassador, Kerry stopped in front of the eatery. When the owner who gave her last name as Chung served him plates of soy sauce and red pepper sauce tteokbokki, Kerry picked them up with wooden chopsticks.

Kim paid W6,000 (US$1=W1,066) before the entourage toured the rest of the market.

The owner said she does not place too much significance on Kerry's compliments. "It was the first time he tried tteokbokki and it's hard for a beginner to truly appreciate the taste," she said. "But he must enjoy eating spicy food because he didn't even have a glass of water."

The owner, has been selling snacks in the market since 1985. She fries them in a pan, whereas the traditional method is to boil them with spicy chili paste, which has assured her a steady stream of customers.

Until the 1990s there were several similar eateries in the market, but now only two are left.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 20, 2014 12:45 KST