Thursday, April 17, 2014

Korean Wave: Five Things You Didn’t Know About Korean Food

Original source :
Posted : December 2013
Author : Alice Yong

As the K-wave sweeps through the world, Korean cuisine is more popular than ever. But Korean food is not just about kimchi and bbq.

These days there’s no escaping the “hallyu” or Korean wave. Whether it’s drama, music, beauty, fashion, cars, smartphones or household appliances, the K-wave has swept us all up in its unstoppable wake. Ardent foodies aren’t spared either judging by the ever-growing number of Korean restaurants in the Klang Valley. In recent years, Korean food has become a popular cuisine of choice for many when they dine out. But Korean food is not all about bbq and kimchi. There are plenty of fascinating, little known facts about hansik, aka Korean cuisine.

Food is medicine
First and foremost, food is medicine, according to the Koreans. They subscribe to the belief that “you are what you eat”. To them, food is something that’s essential to one’s physical and emotional well-being. They believe in harmony – that different ingredients when combined should be balanced in the yin-yang aspects. Korean food is also one of the healthiest traditional cuisine in the world due to the prevalent use of natural, seasonal ingredients: tofu, bean paste, chillies, garlic and tangy-spicy kimchi.
The concept of harmony in Korean food is evident at Onsemiro through its wide variety of banchan – small assorted dishes of appetisers, pickles and salads. At Da On Fine Korean Restaurant, samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is a splendid stress reliever to counter our hot sweltering weather.

Rice is nice
The second thing to remember is that rice is nice and precious. No Korean meal is complete without a bowl of steamed rice. The short grain rice is starchier than our local version, with a stickier texture similar to that of glutinous rice. Sometimes beans, millet, barley and corn are added for variation or made into juk (porridge). Unpolished brown rice is more popular in the countryside.
It is a sacrilege to waste rice so most Koreans feel duty-bound to finish every single grain. Water is sometimes poured over the rice crust at the bottom of rice pot and everything is left to soak for a while before the watery crust is scraped together to make sungyung,  a weak, smoky rice “tea” of sorts. Every last drop and grain of this is completely lapped up.

Do you know that Korean restaurateurs are obliged to ply diners with endless servings of banchan (side dishes) as long as the latter’s bowls of rice remain unfinished? This is because leftover rice is seen as a tell-tale sign that the food served hasn’t meet the customers’ expectations, hence the restaurateurs must coax them into finishing it with more banchan.
Local diners can sample one of the Korea’s most popular rice dishes bibim-bab (hot stone bowl rice topped with assorted vegetables and egg, then stirred and served with Korean chilli sauce) at Kimchi Haru, a modest family-run Korean eatery or Dubu Dubu, a modern, quick-service Korean restaurant.

All in one
Korean food is also about enjoying an “all in one” meal. Unlike Western meals that come in separate, multiple courses, a Korean meal will have all the different dishes served simultaneously. Each person will have his or her own bowl of rice, soup and/or stew. It is customary to serve five to 12 dishes of banchan in addition to one or two family/communal servings of main dishes: meat, seafood or beancurd.
Naturally, regional variations abound. More fish and seafood-centric dishes dominate the coastal regions while simpler, more rustic and wholesome fare prevail in agriculture-intensive areas. Both Da On and Onsemiro take great pride in tempting diners with more refined facets of Korean cuisine while Ko Hyang, Kimchi Haru and Dubu Dubu aim for mass appeal with their selection of reasonably priced homespun fare.

No gravy train but banchan aplenty
Forget about the gravy train when it comes to Korean food. With the exception of soup and certain stewed dishes, you won’t find any gravy-laden offering in Korean cuisine. Even juk (Korean porridge) tends to be smooth and thick while jjigae (Korean stew) only has a small amount of liquid in it.
However, banchan is aplenty in every Korean meal, with five or more side dishes being the norm. Served in the centre of the table for sharing, the repertoire runs into hundreds of different varieties. Apart from the famed kimchi, a large number of banchan is vegetable-based and the preparations veer from parboiling and simmering in various sauces and spices to pan-frying and braising.

No sweet conclusion
Dessert to end one’s meal is a Western concept that’s completely alien to Korean dining. Customarily, a Korean meal finishes with green tea or refreshing beverages such as sikhye (rice punch), hwachae (honeyed fruit punch) and ohmija (a mildly tangy five-flavour raspberry tea with pine nuts).

~Blog Admin~

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