Story by: Mariyah Gonzales, Photos by: Gemma Wardle
The foodie behind A Fat Girl’s Food Guide to Eating in Korea
The Somerset native and British accent behind runaway food blog A Fat Girl’s Guide, Gemma Jane first arrived in South Korea nearly six years ago as a language instructor. Relatable and approachable, she’s the sort of friend you text first on a Friday night: This girl gets excited about her food.
“Do you have an oven?” I ask, somewhat dimwittedly. “Yes, of course!” she responds. “I started out with a tiny toaster oven in my first year so I could make a roast dinner — start with the potatoes in first, then take them out, cook the meat and take it out. Then start on the Yorkshire pudding. I’d have dinner five hours later! I have a huge oven now. It’s improved my cooking life so much.”
The guide came from a place of both ambition and necessity. Frustrated with the transient nature of Seoul’s morphing foodscape, Jane decided to start building her own.
“I was a little irritated with people repeatedly asking me for restaurant recommendations. I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over again, but there was no other place for a foreigner to start.” It was only when she started sharing her insights on Facebook that the project really began to take off.
Groove Korea: You have quite a list of restaurants filed away on the blog. How do you pay for all your great dinners out?
Gemma Jane: About 75 percent of my income goes to food (laughs), but I’m a creative shopper and always on the lookout for bargains. I get almost everything from my local shop around the corner, and I buy at the end of the day when things go on sale — strawberries and bananas for a dollar, blueberries for two. And then there’s Costco.
Of course, I would love to make a living of eating, but for now I’m happy to buy and pay for things myself. It’s mostly just dinners out, but hey, it’s what I like to do: go out to eat and drink, lay down and watch TV, then eat some more. I don’t have any other cultural interests (laughs).
How would you like to expand the project?
I would love to do pop-up restaurants, a brunch one first. People love brunch! I like cooking, but I hate cooking under pressure, like you do in a restaurant. Still, I would do it, just to try. I did a drink pop-up at Casablanca in Haebangchon last Halloween with my mulled wine and cucumber gin-and-tonics. That was fun and simple — I would definitely do it again.
How can you go out for all these meals, make such wonderful food and not weigh 800 pounds?
For most of my life, I was extremely overweight. I was well over 200 pounds up until age 18, but then I joined a gym and started making better choices with food. I ate less junk and more vegetables. I cooked more. Nowadays, I start with a smoothie on my walk to work and snack on fruits, veggies and nuts for the rest of the day. But when I get home, I whip up whatever I’m craving for dinner and enjoy it.
My one rule is to stop eating by 8 p.m. Otherwise anything goes. I may have inherited a great metabolism or some sort of deadly virus that’s keeping me thin. (Plus) I fit in about 10 minutes of exercise every day! But also, I walk everywhere and climb up every flight of stairs. I haven’t done the set at Noksapyeong yet — that’s next.
Sweet! If you’re feeling healthier and brighter with your routine, you’re doing something right. Any foods you’ve turned away from?
Rice has been a concern for me since my first year; I blame it for most of my weight gain during that time. Many foreigners in their first year struggle with options, but the only foods available to those living outside the city are fast-food chains. Not many people have access to familiar ingredients either — or kitchens that look like the ones back home — but, still, you can do a lot with what you’ve got.
A Fat Girl’s Food Guide, as Gemma styles it, is a kimchi-free zone — only non-Korean restaurants and ingredients need apply — and features recipes and restaurant reviews, tips for shopping and an extensive Google map featuring all her foodie conquests. Visit to see where her recommendations might take you.