Last year, the Delaware Korean United Methodist Church held a food festival. Much to the congregation's surprise, more than 1,200 people showed up—including Gov. Jack Markell—to sample Korean cuisine and peek inside the culture of the Korean community that it has been neighbors with for more than 30 years.
Next weekend, the festival will return, aiming to outdo itself with more food, more culture and, hopefully, more visitors.
"We couldn't believe how many people showed up. It was such a blessing," said Assistant Pastor Dan Cho. "We had tried to do community appreciation days before to get to know and thank the community we live in but last year's response was overwhelming. We were so pleased."
The idea for the festival actually started out as a fundraising idea for the church's many missions to underdeveloped and impoverished sections of the world. For the most part, those missions have focused on the needs of Haitians. For instance, one of the most recent trips took 14 college students from the congregation to Haiti to contribute to a tent community's need for a water tower.
"It's worse than what people might think. There are whole communities living in tents," Cho explained. "The kids were there over summer and it was just so hot. The community literally ran out of water. Our kids and people helped build the tower and then fill it, too."
On a subsequent medical mission, doctors who visited the area said the water tower actually provided more than 10,000 families with water just when they needed it. The wells are mostly dried up and water can be scarce.
"The conditions are horrific but there is so much hope," Cho said of his own experience in Haiti. "But, we can't do it alone. That's really how the festival got started. We wanted to raise money to do even more."
Following last year's festival, they have done more. After raising nearly $17,000, the church expanded their missions to include Thailand, Argentina, North Korea and China. The church's youth group even did a trip to the Hopi Native American reservations to help with kid's programming and church renovations.
"We're kind of expanding to other missions because we had even more money than we expected come in," Cho said, explaining that 100 percent of the money raised by the event goes directly toward their missions. "We're hoping to raise even more this year."
To entice more people to the festival, organizers have decided to focus as much attention to the Korean culture as Korean food.
"Believe it or not, there are a lot of fans of Korean Pop music, known as K-pop, in the community with American high school and college students," Cho said. "So, we're going to have a talent contest. People who enter can sing K-pop songs or do popular dances."
Page 2 of 2 - Cho and two other DKUMC clergymen will judge the contest, looking for contestants who can pronounce the most words of the songs or do the dances correctly. He said that he expects to see a lot of dancing, much like the routine done by Korean entertainment juggernaut Psy in songs like "Gangnam Style."
Other highlights of the day will include traditional Korean games like Jegichagi, which Cho said most closely resembled playing hacky sack. There will also be demonstrations of Korean martial arts like Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo and traditional Korean folk dancing.
At its heart, though, the event is still all about food and the congregation does its best to give visitors a broad overview of popular Korean tastes, which is all bought and cooked by members of the church.
"We started working on the food earlier in the month," Cho said. "Church women are even coming in on Saturday to make 10,000 to 12,000 dumplings. These women can cook, too. I've been sampling everything and it's so good."
Other menu items include Kim Chi, which Cho described as spicy, fermented cabbage seasoned with red peppers and garlic. Last year's most sought-after and most popular dish, Bulgogi, a dish of sliced marinated barbequed steak, will return as well as appetizers like Kim Phop and entrees like Bibimap.
"Korean food is more on the spicy side with ingredients like crushed red peppers," Cho said. "But, that's probably only 60 percent of what we eat. There's something for everyone."
Every person that buys food will automatically get a ticket for a raffle the church has planned. Donations are pouring in and Cho said that the raffle prize could wind up being a nice, big-ticket item.
"Come try the food and let us share our culture," Cho said, extending an invitation to anyone who is interested. "We want to be neighborly. You will have fun and be helping people around the world."