DEFINING MUSLIM FRIENDLY

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Published on March 01, 2020 with No Comments

Jeju strives to offer a place for Muslims at its tables.

Words ANIS RAMLI
Images JEJU TOURISM ORGANIZATION

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The booming mandarin orange farming entices those who love a fruit-picking experience.

 

Jeju used to attract young newlyweds that would arrive to the island seeking a memorable honeymoon. And they are not disappointed. Dramatic volcano landscapes, insta-worthy UNESCO-listed attractions, scenic beaches and breathtaking hiking trails – Jeju is possibly Asia’s answer to the West’s Hawaii.

The tuff-coned Seongsan Ilchulbong, or “Sunrise Peak”, is especially spectacular and remains one of the “hero images” of Jeju Tourism Board. It is also where you can connect with the island’s unique women divers that date back to at least the 17th century. Known locally as haenyeo, these women can dive more than 10 metres without using any oxygen mask to harvest the sea for sea urchins, shellfish, octopus and more.

Fresh seafood, in fact, can be found aplenty around the island. At the bottom of Seongsan Ilchulbong, restaurants such as Uribong Sikdang that specialises in grilled mackerel and abalone seafood hotpot, are a common sight. What makes this eatery a rarity, however, is the Muslim-friendly sign at its entrance and the presence of a musholla (Muslim prayer room) in
the restaurant.

Signs like those displayed by Uribong Sikdang are becoming increasingly common in Jeju. It alludes to the efforts made by Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to make South Korea a reputable and trusted destination for Muslim travellers, which is not surprising as the Muslim travel market is reported to be worth over $100 billion. In the 2019 Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) report that also looked at nations outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), South Korea ranked within the top 10 in the list of non-OIC destinations.

In 2016, KTO introduced its own standard of classification status for restaurants in an attempt to ease the Muslim traveller’s dietary needs in the country. Broken down into four groups, they are Halal Certified (certified by the Korea Muslim Federation, KMF), Self-Certified (owners are Muslims), Muslim Friendly (no pork on the premises, some halal dishes, and alcohol may be sold) and Pork Free (restaurants do not offer a halal menu but do not use pork, and also, alcohol may be sold). What needs to be known too is that hotel restaurants and buffets that are categorised as Muslim Friendly may serve dishes that contain pork. To further boost convenience, KTO has published the food guide into a book with dedicated pictograms for each category to show detailed restaurant information. The information can also be accessed from the official Visit Korea site at visitkorea.or.kr and includes other practical information such as prayer rooms in major cities, useful visitor phrases and transportation guide.

At the moment, only halal-certified restaurants bearing the halal logo are genuinely compliant with halal standards that meet the stipulations of the religion. The rest of the categories – and visiting its premises – are best done with discretion. This is because of how these restaurants obtain their positioning, in particular the Muslim Friendly and Pork Free categories. A restaurant is required to perform a self-audit of its kitchen based on a KTO checklist developed in partnership with the Ministry of Food and Drugs Safety to ensure it is devoid of any non-halal produce or ingredients. Once these self-audit documents are submitted to KTO, their premises will then be inspected by KTO representatives to ensure compliance before a Muslim-friendly or Pork Free certification is awarded. In the absence of an Islamic regulatory body, continued compliance is open to the discretion of the business operators.

While a KMF official follows and inspects the restaurant during the KTO inspection process after the restaurant’s self-audit, it is not clear whether this is done just for those applying for halal certification or for all four categories. Therefore, the trust of halal implementation rests on the consumer’s self-knowledge and discretion. For KTO to capture the popular Muslim travel market and earn the trust of Muslim travellers, South Korea can further improve its Muslim-friendly SOPs to truly welcome the world’s Muslims to its tables.

Certainly, South Korea is to be lauded for its efforts to cater to the Muslim travellers, for whom the country is high on their bucket list. KTO organises the annual Halal Restaurant Week Korea (the first in 2016) for its Muslim visitors to experience Korean halal food as well as other cuisine around the country that have been subdivided into its four categories. Visitors were able to download the list of participating restaurants and discount coupons from the event’s official web page to further enhance the experience.

As South Korean’s island paradise, Jeju certainly is charming. Its tropical weather – where even the winter is balmy – and volcanic nature offer the visitor plenty to explore. Mandarin orange picking, visiting the various UNESCO-inscribed sites, volcanic formations, and exploring the vast array of beaches and waterfalls are typical highlights in Jeju. For an alternative way to explore the island, consider doing the Jeju Olle Trail. The brainchild of a Jeju native, the trails (now numbering 26) connect and restore broken paths that were used previously by locals (or forgotten), bringing walkers and hikers closer to the island’s people and heritage. And yes, some even cut across owners’ properties!

The trails succeed in showcasing the island’s varied landscape, and with the shifting in topography that awaits visitors at various trails, it brings walkers across top scenery spots and a deeper appreciation of Jeju’s wonders. The website (jejuolletrailguide.net) has detailed route information, maps and guides for hikers.

This trip was made possible by Jeju Tourism Organization.

 

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Incheon 4x weekly for easy connections to Jeju. Discover things to do in Jeju in www.muhibah.com.bn

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