It goes without saying that when traveling to a new country, we should all try to experience as much of the local cuisine as is possible. Most people are quite proud of the food they were raised with, and are happy to introduce foreigners to the unique smells, textures and flavors that their country has perfected. Korean food, a delicate combination of strong spices and hearty vegetables, is unlike anything I have ever had before. As a whole, Korean cuisine is incredibly healthy, as food is thought to be best served fresh, and without preservatives. Since the beginning of their history, the Korean people have been remarkably resourceful with their foods; finding new ways to preserve, ferment and season their foods which are not seen at all in Western cuisines. The food of the region cannot be compared to any other Asian food I have tried, and is entirely unique to the country.
At times I find it difficult to be fully on-board the Korean food train, as my poor Western taste buds simply can’t tolerate the quantity of chili pepper paste that is enjoyed by the Korean peninsula. I’d like to submit the following three pictures as evidence… tteokbokki (떡볶이), kimchi jigae (김치 찌개), and gochujang (고추장). In case there was ever any doubt as to the authenticity of your Land of the Morning Calm cuisine, a basic rule of thumb is: If it’s not red, it’s not Korean. Fortunately for me, there are some exceptions to this rule, and Korea has an abundance of noodles, soups, seafood dishes, and meats that are mouthwatering to even the most Western of palates. If spicy food does not float your boat, I would recommend you try bulgogi (불고기), a tender beef dish seasoned with a mild sauce, and prepared with vegetables; japchae (잡채), a stir-fry noodle dish that can be served either hot or cold; or kimbap (김밥), similar to the rolled sushi seen in Japanese food. There is something for everyone in Korean cuisine, and everything is fresh, healthy, and delicious.
Because Korean food has not yet gained the widespread popularity that other Asian foods enjoy in the United States, it can be hard to sample the cuisine from this part of the world. For this reason, I have asked the students from my English class at Cheongryang Middle School to document an authentic Korean recipe that uses ingredients accessible to people around the world. While most of these ingredients can easily be found at a local store, the seaweed sheets and kimchi will require a trip to a specialty Asian store, or foreign foods section. Kimchi is the dish of Korea, and is prepared by fermenting cabbage or radish and then slathering it with chili paste (as is the Korean way) and serving cold. Kimchi is eaten with every meal of the day, and is an essential component to the Korean diet. While kimchi may be harder to locate in the US, you can certainly find cold bags of it in specialty stores, so it’s worth a Google search to find the foreign foods store nearest to you.
I should note that kimchi is not vegetarian friendly, as it is sometimes prepared using fish, squid, or even oysters, depending on the regional style.
Kimchi Pan-Broiled Rice (김치볶응밥)
Prep time: Under 30 minutes
Makes three servings
4 bowls of precooked rice (preferably slightly undercooked)
Sheets of dried seaweed (called nori in Japanese and kim in Korean)
Pepper and sesame to taste
Squeeze the kimchi to get rid of excess water and chop it into small, bite-sized pieces
Chop onions and bacon to match the size of the kimchi pieces
Fry eggs until they are half-cooked
Pour the vegetable oil on onto a pan, and add onion and bacon, cooking until the onion is transparent
Add the kimchi to the pan, along with the sugar and the hot pepper (*Note, kimchi is quite spicy enough on its own, if you have a low spice tolerance, only add one teaspoon of hot pepper powder*)
Add rice to the pan, and stir in salt and pepper
Scoop the fried rice onto the plate, and add the fried egg on top of the rice pile
Sprinkle bits of kim and sesame to taste
Enjoy, and share with friends!
As always, new foods are best experienced with company, so invite some friends over, whip up some side dishes and try something new!
This article is all thanks to my students at Cheongryang Middle School, who thoughtfully compiled a small book of foreigner-friendly recipes! This particular dish was written by Lee Hae In, who says it’s a common meal in Korean households.