Korea is a 600-mile long peninsula thrust between China and Japan. Rivers criss-cross her rich green grasses. Jagged, stony mountains reach for bright skies above. And, she has 3000, (count them) 3000 beautiful islands amid some of the finest fishing grounds in the world. Forty-five million residents, hardy descendents of Mongolian stock, are known for their hard work in this temperate climate.
Separating the Yellow Sea on the west from the Sea of Japan on the east, this hard-fought-for piece of land is bounded by the Korea Straight on the south and borders China and Russia on the north, separated by the Yalu and Tumen rivers. Strategic.
The first Korean kingdom was formed 1222 BC, ending with their Choson Dynasty in 1910. China has always had a strong influence on the little country, and Japan ruled her from 1910 to 1945. After WWII, Korea was divided into Republic of Korea to the south and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north. Negotiations for peace have been on-going since 1972.
Foodwise, Korea and her two principal neighbors share the practice of balancing sweet, salty, bitter, hot and sour flavors in their cuisines. They believe these elements influence directions, colors, time, food and certain parts of the body. Good Asian cooks try to balance these five elements through the combination of material, color, smell and taste.
Beverage-wise, Koreans do not like milk. Approximately 95 percent of eastern Asiatics have an aversion to it. This means no creamy sauces, no cheese toppings and no buttered vegetables, noodles or rice in their diet. In his book, Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, University of Florida anthropologist, Marvin Harris, quotes author Robert Lowie, who has collected examples of “capricious irrationality” in human food habits. Lowie states, “… southeastern Asian people do not merely have an aversion to the use of milk, they loathe it intensely.” They compare the prospect of gulping down a nice, cold glass of milk, with “… westerners’ reaction to the prospect of a nice, cold glass of cow saliva.”
At mealtime, Koreans set out dishes for all courses, and there’s no proper order for the eating any food. They eat rice with spoons or chopsticks. They use no knives, as foods are bite-sized. Slurping soup shows appreciation for it; a burp at the end of the meal is a sign of satisfaction.
Most every meal includes “pap” (rice), “kuk” (soup) and “kum” or “kimchi (a vegetable slaw). Medium-grain, (sticky) rice is their most important food, and they raise most of it. Sometimes they mix it with barley or soybeans for flavor and nutrition. Soup is often noodle-based or buckwheat noodle-based. “Kum” is essential to any Korean meal. Usually, they start with cabbage, and season it with red pepper powder, salt, garlic, ginger. More than 100 varieties exist. They raise most of their kimchi ingredients.
Fish is served in a number of ways — dried, pickled, crushed into a paste or sauce, stewed, steamed or grilled. Flavorings include combinations of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, dried anchovies and many delicious spice pastes based on fermented soy beans, dejan paste and fermented soybean or chile paste. The Korean diet is a well-rounded one.
The food-of-the-day on “Dongji,” a minor new year’s holiday, is Red-Bean Cereal Soup to chase away evil spirits. It is made from red beans, rice, sticky rice powder and honey. More festive is the Korean “Jungyang Day,” a celebration for changing seasons, when they drink chrysanthemum wine and grill food outside.
Bipimbop: classis dish of rice and vegetables topped with an egg and served in heated stone bowl.
Chapch’ae: Mixture of stir-fried vegetables and chinese noodles, seasoned with sesame oil.
Hoe: assorted, thick slices of raw fish
Kalbi: marinated beef short ribs
Kimbap: Rice with beef, ham, sausage, also chopped eggs, parboiled spinach, cucumber and pickled raddish mixed and spread on slightly toasted sheet of seaweek, rolled and cut into bit-sized pieces.
Kimchi: most made with Napa cabbage. Korean special: radishes, fish, squid, cucumber, eggplant, radish greens, fruit, endless. May be seasoned with coarse salt, chile, ginger, garlic or fish sauce.
Kujolp’an: elegant dinner of cooked meat and vegetables arranged in large sectioned dish with stack of Korean pancakes in the center. Fillings are wrapped inside the pancakes.
Pajons: thin pancakes with scallions.
Pibimpap: Rice mixed with bits of meat, seasoned vegetables and egg with hot sauce.
Pindaeddok: pancakes with sprouts and pork.
Sashimi: In Korea the raw fish is cut into larger pieces and served wrapped in lettuce leaves.
Tukbaege is a stewing pot in which casseroles are cooked from which frequent combinations of fish or meat, potatoes (sweet or white), eggplant, seaweed, fiddleheads and tofu.
Pulgogi (Korean Grilled Beef) Means “fire beef,” also called Korean Barbecue. (A Korean Taco?)
1 lb. Sliced ribeye beef
¾ cup Soy sauce
1/2 cup Sesame oil
2 T. Sugar
3 cloves Garlic
1/8 tsp. Black pepper
2 T. Toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup Sliced green onions
1 med bowl Rice
Hot bean paste
Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic together.
Add black pepper, sesame seeds and green onions.
Marinate beef in mixture at least one hour
Grill marinated meat a few minutes on each side. Cook to desired doneness.
Serve with rice and large lettuce leaf
Into each lettuce leaf place small amount of rice, some meat and season with small amount of bean paste.
Roll up and eat with fingers.