To help introduce you to Korean food, here is a list of tips that Kim and her friends have picked up in their years in Gangneung and which they gave me to help teach me about Korean food. Over the next many posts, I’ll introduce you to the key main dishes, vendor food, grocery stores and markets, foreign food, and many more Down Home Foodie experiences in
. I’m hoping that by the end, you will have learned as much about Korean food as I have and hopefully that will give you a leg up if you ever come to Korea. Korea
· Food Pride: Korean people have a lot of pride in their country and a lot of pride in their food. For instance, one of the grocery stores is named Hana Mart, which means “one” and is used to describe Korean people. Restaurant owners and stand vendors will be very happy if you seem appreciative and excited about their dishes. On a couple of occasions, people corrected me through words or gestures about the proper way of eating and experiencing a food. I really enjoyed that because it speaks to how much satisfaction they have in a food and so want it to be enjoyed right.
· Table Cooking: Many of the places Kim took me to involve eating food which was cooked at the table. This may be in stir fry, heating, or possibly grilling over hot coals. Because of the table-centered prep, you end up with a great feeling of ceremony and personalization attached to every meal. It also creates a sense of table community because you are all sharing in one central dish.
· Spoons and Chopsticks: These are the two main utensils at the table. In Korea It is fine to eat rice with a spoon. Actually, I was eating a rice bowl with chopsticks and the owner mimed to me to switch to the spoon instead.
· Yogi-yo Button and Call: When you need something in a Korean restaurant, you call “yogi-yo” or push a button on the table to call the server.
· Vegetarianism: If you are pescatarian, you should still be somewhat okay. However, be warned, that Koreans use a similar word for meat to describe all meats. Even fish in the sea is called, mulkogi, or “water meat,” although when served it is called sansung. I had a couple of meals with a pescatarian who talked about how hard of time she had communicating being vegetarian since things like ham aren’t really even considered meat. It is very similar to the moment in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Ian tells Tula’s aunt that he is a vegetarian and she responds that it is okay, she will just cook him lamb instead.
Accompaniments and Sides
· Gochujang : This is the red pepper sauce that accompanies and is in much off the food. It is like very spicy like sriracha, but not as sweet and not as supped up with add-ons. In texture, potency, and consistency, it is pretty reminiscent of tomato paste. With gochujang, you get a better sense of the ground cayenne pepper and the strong flavor of pepper paste.
· Kimchi: Kimchi is served with every meal here and there are a lot of flavor variations. Some is sweeter, some a little grittier, some heavy with gochujang and some stronger of fish. In the markets, it is expected to try it first because every kimchi is different. Kim told me that the saying attached to Kimchi is that it is “the taste of mother’s fingers.” The Korean sound “kim”is connected to over fifty meanings. There are many variations on the way kimchi is prepared: i.e. water kimchi (which is a type of kimchi soup), the leafier cabbage version, a variation made with radishes, and some even served in pancakes. The main similarity, as Kim told me, is time, since all kimchi undergoes a substantial fermentation period.
· Rice: I had heard once from a friend who went WWOOFing in Japan, the way people eat rice is to put some in their mouth and then put the main dish in, so that one bite has both components. In
Korea, it is more customary to have a bowl of rice for you to put food on and enjoy a little as you go. But, you should really reserve the rice to the end so as not to fill up.
· Sides: You can tell the quality of the cook by how many types of kimchi and sides are served. The act of having a pickled side is so strong, that even at the Italian restaurant I went to served a plate of sweet pickles and pickled peppers. Also served with lots of barbeques and stir fries is the gochujang, fresh slightly hot peppers (that remind me of Anaheim peppers), whole garlic cloves, onions, and lettuce leaves. The lettuce is used for holding the meat instead of eating it with rice or often in addition to the rice, wrapped up like a burrito.
· Dak = When ordering chicken, “chicken” refers more to fried chicken, whereas “dak” means the rest of the chicken prepared in many other ways.
· Gui = Grilled
· Tteok = rice cake that comes in many forms--cakes, cylinders, slices from a longer tube, etc.
· Bul = fire
· Galbi = pork or beef ribs cooked over charcoal on a metal plate
· Dubu = tofu
· Bokkeum = term for stir-frying
Coming up next on Friday . . . . Grocery Stores and Markets