Ryu, Si-Hyeong: the kimchi bus

by Jorge Gonzalez / August 10 2015

One man, thirty three countries and a bus loaded with kimchi.

Asour assault to the nostrils, mouth burning spice and a limp lettuce-like texture. Kimchi, Korea’s most iconic food and a hipster favorite. My relationship with the Korean cuisine has been forever stained by the image of an old woman in the restaurant next to my building. She, religiously every morning with elbow high Pepto Bismol pink rubber gloves, mixes by hand an obscene amount of Spam and mayonnaise. Kimchi is the cornerstone of the Korean diet, each person will consume around 40 pounds of it every year. Unsurprisingly, Koreans claim kimchi has more medical benefits than Vicks VapoRub has for a Latin family.

Ryu Si-Hyeong is the owner and creator of the Kimchi Bus, two words that have never been uttered in the same sentence before. The young chef has been with his bus in more than 33 countries making and serving Kimchi for people all over the world. His journey began when he was 18 years old and decided to do something unthinkable for Koreans. He hitchhiked his way throughout his home country with absolutely no money. It’s hard to imagine what could have been going through his mind at the moment, it is outrageous for an idea like this to blossom in Korea’s homogenous society. Armed with nothing but a backpack, a sleeping bag and an enormous smile, that he still wears today, he went for it. Neither the rainy days, the blisters on his feet nor the hunger held him back, in fact he grew hungrier for adventure. He realized how reachable the unreachable big world was.

Many times I’ve encountered difficulties, I’ve been broken down to tears more than once. When you are all by yourself cold and hungry, and it seems it will never stop raining you start to flake. Life taught me people are capable of amazing things as they are of the wicked. Luckily, I was able to pick myself up every time. And I’ve learned my lesson, I’ve become stronger and more passionate about what I do.”

- Ryu Si-Hyeong

Obssesed with Europe’s gastronomical scene he put himself through culinary school and saved enough money for a one way ticket to Madrid, leaving him with only 26 Euros in his pocket. His European adventure lasted, incredibly, for the better part of 8 months despite not knowing any other language but Korean. Undeterred by his lack of money and language, he was able  to thrive through more than 20 countries in Europe. He charmed people and learned that humans can be infinitely more provocative than any recipe he could have ever imagined. 

Many other places followed Europe, and then the idea of the Kimchi Bus came. The Kimchi Bus was  the perfect method to make his wanderlust sustainable, the marriage of his passion with his career. With some luck and a lot of perseverance he was able to find a sponsor. Soon after he and his two best friends departed from Korea to Europe, through Russia. I cannot fathom the smell of that bus, 3 guys on the road, living in a bus loaded with Kimchi for over 400 days, no thank you. After crossing Siberia and visiting Europe the next stop was America. Their expedition was a total success, people loved it, and he was living his dream. 

The Kimchi Bus and Ryu Si-Hyeong are still going strong, they recently visited South America and next year they will visit Australia. He just opened his second restaurant in Shinsegae Mall in Seoul. Besides that he has his food truck at the Common Ground located in Seoul. 

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