Sunday, April 24, 2011
Eight years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Korea for a one week vacation for a work-sponsored event. I was due to audition for the Royal College of Music in London the week after and knowing nothing about Korean food I was terrified of eating anything authentic. So, I am sorry to confess, I spent most of my time eating at Western fast-food joints. The only dish I tasted was bulgogi and I liked it. As an aside I probably ought to tell you that in my childhood meat and three veg’ was our daily bread – I didn’t even try Chinese food until I was in my mid-twenties!
I loved Korea and visited many cultural hotspots but the food and I were not to be on that occasion. My audition in London was a success and I moved there to live for three years. I gained a lot of weight in England and after moving home to New Zealand I decided it was time to diet. I began a diet program that provides you with all your meals pre-made and packaged. Needless to say it lacked flavor and variety but it did the trick and I lost a lot of weight. When the diet ended I decided to celebrate by cooking a meal I had never cooked. I decided to try Korean food.I found a brilliant website (Maangchi.com) and started off making jjajangmyun (blackbean noodles derived from the Chinese dish zha jiang mian). I was blown away by how delicious it was – especially as I made it myself using ingredients that were unfamiliar to me – specifically black bean paste. It was such a great experience that I was instantly hooked.
I began to cook my way through the website using the ingredients guide to help me select the right things at the local Korean grocery. In New Zealand it is rare to see Europeans cooking Korean food – the look on the face of the grocery store owner when I handed over a package of kosari (fernbrake) was priceless; she laughed and said “how do you know this?!”
Initially I cooked a few small side dishes (banchan) for friends and family and served them with rice and either a barbeque or stew but as I became progressively hooked on the amazing flavors I was constantly coming across I increased the size of the meals and the number of people at dinner parties. As I discovered something new – such as sinseollo (Royal hot pot) I sought out Korean sites that I could purchase the required kitchenware from. Fortunately I found GMarket which not only has an English version of their site, but also ships internationally (essential for someone like me who is not in the United States). I also found a supplier of beautiful traditional goods (Korean Arts) from whom I was able to buy a beautiful bamboo gujeolpan dish (platter of nine delicacies).
Another curious effect of my switch to Korean food is that I have fallen in love with spicy food. Gochujang (hot pepper paste) is my favorite condiment – it has replaced ketchup in my diet and I use it so often I have to buy 3kg containers of it! I have even bought a cookbook (Growing up in a Korean Kitchen) especially because it has a recipe for home made gochujang that I want to try. I foresee my back yard being dotted with onggi (Korean earthenware pots) by this time next year. Let’s hope the neighbors love the smell of hot pepper paste and kimchi as much as I do!
One of the few things I tasted on my trip to Korea was rice cake – it was traditionally made by pounding rice with a hammer. I found it quite shocking to the senses as I had never eaten anything with that glutinous texture before – my feelings were very mixed about it. So I decided it was time for me to try making rice cakes at home so I could revisit the experience and rejudge the famous Korean delight. I didn’t pound my own rice – I used a recipe with glutinous rice flour – but the end result was essentially what I remember. The only difference? I loved it. It was so sweet and the delicious cinnamon centered filling of red bean paste was a delight to the senses. I could only eat one as it was so rich. I shared them around and even gave some as gifts; everyone loved them. The ones pictured here are my first batch. They are rolled in ground roasted sesame seeds (white and black).
At my most recent meal I spent over eight hours in the kitchen preparing side dishes – I loved it and my knife skills are really improving by the day. In fact, I now have a permanent callus on my finger from using the knife so much. Everyone that has been invited for Korean food loves it – and I am talking about a lot of people, both children and adults. I am certainly doing the best I can in little old New Zealand to promote the culture and food of Korea.
I have now switched entirely to Korean food at home and have managed to maintain my weight loss without bland diet food. Because Korean food has such a diverse range of dishes I know what to eat if I am especially hungry and what to eat when I need far fewer calories. I can honestly say I don’t foresee a change in my eating habits going forward; in fact I am now hoping to travel to Korea to attend cooking classes.
If you want to see a small sampling of my Korean cooking so far, feel free to visit my flickr page. All of the photographs on this page were prepared and photographed by me based almost exclusively on recipes from Maangchi.com.
Editor : Jamie FraterView all Posts