National Dish of the Week – Korea

July 23, 2011 at 12:34 PM | Posted in baking, Food | 2 Comments
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Jokbal, a type of pig's feet Anju

Korean cuisine originated from ancient prehistoric traditions in the Korean peninsula and southern Manchuria, evolving through a complex interaction of environmental, political, and cultural trends.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, noodles, tofu (in Korean, dubu), vegetables, and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes (banchan) that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Kimchi is usually served at every meal. Commonly used ingredients include sesame oil, doenjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and gochujang (fermented red chili paste).

Ingredients and dishes vary by province. Many regional dishes have become national, and dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. The Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family. Meals are regulated by Korean cultural etiquette.

Korean foods can be largely categorized into groups of “main staple foods” (주식), “subsidiary dishes” and “dessert”. The main dishes are made from grains such as bap (a bowl of rice), juk (porridge), and guksu (noodles).

Many Korean banchan rely on fermentation for flavor and preservation, resulting in a tangy, salty, and spicy taste. Certain regions are especially associated with some dishes (for example, the city of Jeonju with bibimbap) either as a place of origin or for a famous regional variety. Restaurants will often use these famous names on their signs or menus (i.e. “Suwon galbi”).

Soups are a common part of any Korean meal. Unlike other cultures, in Korean culture, soup is served as part of the main course rather than at the beginning or the end of the meal, as an accompaniment to rice along with other banchan. Soups known as guk are often made with meats, shellfish and vegetables. Soups can be made into more formal soups known as tang, often served as the main dish of the meal. Jjigae are a thicker, heavier seasoned soups or stews.

Kimchi refers to often fermented vegetable dishes usually made with napa cabbage, Korean radish, or sometimes cucumber, commonly fermented in a brine of ginger, garlic, scallions, and chili pepper. There are endless varieties with regional variations, and it is served as a side dish or cooked into soups and rice dishes. Koreans traditionally make enough kimchi to last for the entire winter season, as fermented foods can keep for several years. These were stored in traditional Korean mud pots known as Jangdokdae although with the advent of refrigerators, special Kimchi freezers and commercially produced kimchi, this practice has become less common. Kimchi is packed with vitamin A, thiamine B1, riboflavin B2, calcium, and iron. Its main benefit though is found in the bacteria lactobacilli, this is found in yogurt and fermented foods. This bacteria helps with digestion. South Koreans eat on average of 40 pounds of Kimchi each year.

Noodles or noodle dishes in Korean cuisine are collectively referred to as guksu in native Korean or myeon in hanja. While noodles were eaten in Korea from ancient times, productions of wheat was less than other crops, so noodles did not become a daily food until 1945. Buckwheat (memil guksu) and wheat noodles (milguksu) were specialty foods for birthdays, weddings or auspicious occasions because the long and continued shape were thought to be associated with the bliss for longevity and long-lasting marriage.

In Korean traditional noodle dishes are onmyeon or guksu jangguk (noodles with a hot clear broth), naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), bibim guksu (cold noodle dish mixed with vegetables), kalguksu (knife-cut noodles), kongguksu (noodles with a cold soybean broth) and others. In royal court, baekmyeon (literally “white noodles”) consisting of buckwheat noodles and pheasant broth, was regarded as the top quality noodle dish. Naengmyeon with a cold soup mixed with dongchimi (watery radish kimchi) and beef brisket broth was eaten in court during summer.

Korean regional cuisines (Korean: hyangto eumsik, literally “native local foods”) are characterized by local specialties and distinctive

Daechu cha (jujube tea)

styles within Korean cuisine. The divisions reflected historical boundaries of the provinces where these food and culinary traditions were preserved until modern times.

Although Korea has been divided into two nation-states since 1948 (North Korea and South Korea), it was once divided into eight provinces (paldo) according to the administrative districts of the Joseon Dynasty. The northern region consisted of Hamgyeong province, Pyeongan province and Hwanghae province. The central region comprised Gyeonggi province, Chungcheong province, and Gangwon province. Gyeongsang province and Jeolla province made up the southern region.

Until the late 19th century, transportation networks were not well developed, and each provincial region preserved its own characteristic tastes and cooking methods. Geographic differences are also reflected by the local specialty foodstuffs depending on the climate and types of agriculture, as well as the natural foods available. With the modern development of transportation and the introduction of foreign foods, Korean regional cuisines have tended to overlap and integrate. However, many unique traditional dishes in Korean regional cuisine have been handed down through the generations.

In South Korea, food may be purchased from street carts during the day, where customers may eat standing beside the cart or have their food wrapped up to take home. At night, many streets are filled with small tents that sell inexpensive foods, drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Seasonal foods include hotteok, and bungeoppang, which are enjoyed in autumn and winter. Gimbap is also a very popular street food.

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