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Cooking trends

'Homo coquens' finds his way back into the kitchen

Nov 17, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Hyundai Card Cooking Library in Seoul

Just a year ago, home kitchens were losing momentum on the back of a rise in shared kitchens, meal kits, and convenient food delivery services. Simply put, cooking at home was no longer necessary and some predicted that costly kitchen appliances would remain on dusty storeroom shelves. Some even heralded the phenomenon of the "kitchen closing" as liberating women from the confines of the kitchen.

Many interior design firms began to convert the kitchen space into a coffee shop-like area where family members could convene to enjoy music and reading. The extinction of the kitchen also meant the absence of someone who cooks — in the past, usually the mother. Meanwhile, local community centers began to offer "survival" cooking classes for fathers, targeting retired men.

THE REVIVAL OF THE KITCHEN

The year 2020 will definitely go down as a year in which kitchens made a vibrant comeback as the centerpiece in homes. The non-voluntary quarantine and social distancing measures brought on by the global pandemic have stirred up the instinct to cook. 

This year kitchen appliances, including dishwashers, microwaves and food processors saw a drastic surge in sales in Korea. Even premium imported kitchen appliances with price tags in the thousands of dollars posted record-high sales in the domestic market. Home cooking tools including baking gadgets, toasters, air fryers and ovens saw a boost in sales, with the boom in kimchi refrigerator sales no exception.

The same trend was seen in other countries. Amid the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, around 35~40% of the total US population actively picked up cooking at home, leading to hundreds of thousands of postings with hashtags such as #stressbaking, #quarantinebaking flooding social media platforms.

In Japan, baking staples such as butter became a scarcity in the middle of summer, surprising as the country's baking season is usually around Christmas. Also in China, snack and processed food products saw sales drop by over 20% whereas fresh product sales climbed over 70%.

Even Tupperware, the plastic food container brand, which staggered in sales for the past few years made a surprising return with an impressive performance that led the company's share price to rise over by 35%.

KITCHEN BECOMES RECREATIONAL SPACE IN COVID-19 ERA

A traditional kitchen in Korea was an area that functioned on the premise that women would be working in the space. 

Even in the 1960s when modern apartments began to appear, they often included an agungi, a Korean-style cooking furnace built inside the apartment. Also, many houses and apartments were built in a way that one had to pass through the kitchen to enter the main living space.

Traditional Korean furnace, agungi, where meals were cooked in an area closed off from the living space


The architecture began to change in the 1980s and 90s with the kitchen becoming a universal space and tangent to the living room, but it was still primarily women who used and worked in the kitchen.

Ironically, the global pandemic has redefined the role of the kitchen into a recreational space. Viral trends including the Dalgona coffee challenge — manually whipping up a thick foamy froth using sugar, coffee and barely any water — made preparing food and drink an entertaining activity, regardless of age or gender, especially during the coronavirus lockdown.

Making Dalgona coffee became a sensation during the quarantine period

As working from home becomes the norm, there are a rising number of middle-aged men that have taken a jab at cooking as they upload their creative dishes on social media platforms. The kitchen has become a nostalgic space that brings back fond and sentimental memories of mothers' or grandmothers' cooking, prompting a trend of sharing favorite recipes passed down from the matriarchs. In China, an app whereby stay-at-home mothers deliver homemade meals to neighbors has found recent success.

EVOLUTION THROUGH COOKING?

There is a theory that cooking was the driving force behind evolution, not just a skillset developed to create tasty meals. Instead, the hypothesis is that the current human race, Homo sapiens, may not have evolved without cooking.

According to the Nature science journal, Homo coquens – cooking man – existed prior to Homo sapiens. There is also evidence that our brain capacity drastically expanded alongside using a wider range of food ingredients. Cooking was an instinctive, evolutionary aspect of survival as well as a source of creation.

As people return to cooking amid the quarantine era, perhaps it marks another evolutionary step for our species.

Write to Bora Kim at destinybr@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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