Do the words kimchi, banchan or soju mean anything to you? If they do, you might be among the many Irish who have lived and worked in South Korea as English teachers over the years.

I myself did a stint there. In 2008, after graduating from university in Canada, I naively made my way to the other side of the world where I lived and taught in South Korea for three memorable years.

In Korea, food is deeply embedded into every element of society. As I became more immersed in Korean culture, I came to realise three things: eating rice with every meal is perfectly acceptable, there is no such thing as ‘too much sesame oil’, and kimchi isn’t just a fermented side dish – it’s a way of life.

Olive Feerick owns Olive’s Seoul food in Claremorris, Co Mayo. \ Claire Nash

Meet Olive

South Korean native Olive Feerick opened her restaurant Olive’s Seoul Food, which is located in Claremorris, Co Mayo, in 2021. She will tell you she opened apprehensively; unsure whether the traditional Korean cuisine of her youth would suit a rural Irish palate. She moved to Ireland in 2009 and, while living, working and learning English in Galway, she met her future husband, Cyril.

“I met an Irish guy and I chased him here to Mayo,” she says jokingly. “I met Cyril in Galway, but he is actually from Milltown and was living in Claremorris, so I came here to be close to him.”

Olive is a professionally-trained chef, having attended culinary school before moving to Ireland, but she explains that everyone in Korea – chef or not – is equally knowledgeable and proud of their cuisine.

“I think most Koreans are obsessed with food – especially our own Korean food,” says Olive. “My mom loves to cook. Both of my parents were working when I was growing up. My father has since passed away and my mother is now retired. When I was younger, they were very busy, so I had to help with the cooking. I learned how to cook from that situation. I would eat my mother’s food and pick up on her techniques.”

Korean food is unique from its larger neighbours to the east (Japan) and west (China). It can be spicy, thanks to a Korean chilli powder called gochugaru and fermented chilli paste called gochujang. Olive says what makes Korean cuisine truly unique is its use of fermentation. Kimchi is Korea’s most notable food and this ubiquitous dish of spicy, fermented cabbage is served on the side of every meal – whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Jiggae is a popular Korean dish. \ Claire Nash

Olive’s kimbap (Korean-style sushi). \ Claire Nash

“Fermentation is very important for us, for flavour and for extending the shelf life,” she says. “We eat steamed rice with every meal. Kimchi is eaten with every main course; it is always used as a side dish.

“In Korea, usually we eat rice, soup or jiggae [stew] and we have these with a lot of side dishes called banchan – they can be made with vegetables, meat or seafood – many different things. I have a banchan menu here at the restaurant, so people can pick and choose which side dishes they might like.”

How it started

When Olive first moved to Galway, she quickly found work as a chef at the popular Wa Café, which specialises in Japanese cuisine. At home, she would make her own kimchi. Sometimes, she would gift her homemade kimchi to friends and acquaintances.

“I would give some to friends and they would joke, “You should sell your kimchi.” So I started selling it just from my house. It was through word of mouth that people would ask to buy it. People would come to pick up their kimchi and say, “Could you make some Korean food?’ So I started some catering.”

After two years at Wa Café, Olive moved to the Radisson Blu’s sushi restaurant, RAW. At this time, she was also taking courses in the hospitality department at GMIT (now Atlantic Technological University). When she completed her studies, she accepted a job in the pastry section at Ashford Castle. After another two years in this role, she was feeling both emotionally and physically tired.

“I got a job in a small flower shop, which made me think a bit more about running a small business as opposed to just cooking, but I also realised how much I missed cooking and how much I really love it,” she says.

Olive Feerick owns Olive’s Seoul food in Claremorris. \ Claire Nash


Having moved to Claremorris in 2016, Olive wasn’t convinced about opening a restaurant — despite being told by numerous clients that she should.

“I always thought that owning your own business would be too stressful,” she says. “But since COVID-19, I realised how important food is to me and it made me think about my future.

“A few years ago, I thought Claremorris would be a challenging place to open a Korean restaurant. But now I realise so many people pass through here via the N17. The town itself has become very busy. A lot of country people like to come here to do their shopping.”

After completing a few short business management courses locally, Olive decided to open a small takeaway business. However, she found it difficult to find an appropriate premise. Then, she found a vacant restaurant space above a pub on the town’s main street.

“The restaurant I’m in now was empty for two years,” she says. “At first, I asked the landlord if I could just use the front part because my business plan was so small. He let me do that and I started getting really good reviews from customers. They said they wanted a space to sit down and eat, so eventually we opened the other half of the restaurant for sit-down dining.

“At first, we just used paper containers as I was trying to save on labour costs – I wanted to keep costs to a minimum – but I have 14 staff now and we are very busy. We can seat about 30 diners at one time. We still do a lot of takeaway, but sometimes during the weekends we don’t have enough seats here and we send people to the pub downstairs.”

The inside of the restaurant. \ Claire Nash

A taste of home

Once Olive’s Seoul Food started to get busy, Olive’s husband, Cyril, left his own job and the two now work side by side. Olive says they have different skill sets which complement each other.

“I am a practical person, I like working with my hands and cooking, and he is a functional person, so he likes to manage and keep track of things,” she says, smiling.

The menu items featured – for example, traditional Korean bibimbap, bulgogi and kimchi jiggae (pictured) are all proudly home-cooked by Olive using her own family recipes.

It’s no easy feat to run a successful food business in rural Ireland, even in a larger town such as Claremorris. Olive says she has grown personally and professionally since opening the restaurant and has never been happier. In the beginning, she invested all of her savings, and for the first six months she reinvested any profit back into the business. She availed of some grants from the Local Enterprise Office and has been overwhelmed with the support from her customers. In 2023, Olive’s Seoul Food won ‘Best World Cuisine’ at the Irish Restaurant Awards.

“When I started this business, I thought it would be stressful, but it hasn’t been – I have really enjoyed this whole process,” she says. “I am growing from this business and that makes me happy. I also love to introduce Korean food to people — and I’m so happy when people realise, ‘Oh! Korean food is tasty.”

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