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Imperial Cuisine

The Korean royal palace was notorious for having an abundance of food. Although an anomaly in terms of its vast amounts of food available year round, the imperial court is all encompassing of the different types of traditional Korean Cuisine. Imperial Korea was split into eight provinces, each having to send a variety of goods to the royal palace each month. This gave the royal palace the ability to make a wide variety of regional dishes regularly, making imperial cuisine reflective of traditional Korean cuisine as a whole. In addition to the abundance of dishes available in the imperial court, the preparation of these foods was well integrated into the framework of the imperial workforce. For example, the Board of Personnel was partially comprised of people gathering rice and preparing meals for the royal family. Many of the slaves and palace women were also involved in the procurement and preparation of food. The actual setup and preparation of the meals is very complex, so I won’t go into further details. The crucial thing to take away from this is that royal cuisine is a solid representation of traditional Korean food.

The layout of a typical sura (meal), with numbers denoting dishes and letters denoting placement of attendants to the king and queen (Courtesy of Michael J. Pettid)

Sources:

Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History (by Michael J. Pettid)

The Kimchi Chronicles: The Seoul Food Chronicles

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Food, History

 

Kimchi Jjigae

Kimchi jjigae is one of many varieties of Korean stew. Jjigaes are pretty common in the Korean household and can be made with many of the typical ingredients found in the Korean diet. Kimchi jjigae is a prime example since kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) is eaten with virtually every meal. It generally consists of vegetables, seasoning, pork, and kimchi, making it a relatively simple stew to make. Like most contemporary Korean cuisine, kimchi jjigae can be found at most Korean restaurants in America (especially tofu houses). There’s not much to say about jjigaes, other than they taste great and anyone looking to try a typical, not-too-out-there Korean dish should try this.

A bowl of kimchi jjigae topped with vegetables and tofu

Sources:

The Kimchi Chronicles: The Seoul Food Chronicles

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Food

 

Jajangmyun

Although technically not Korean, jajangmyun is very popular in both Korea and the United States. Originating from the Chinese zha jiang mian, jajangmyun is one of many dishes that Koreans have adapted from countries that occupied Korea. But unlike other dishes with European or East Asian roots, jajangmyun does not vary that much across cultures. All jajangmyun is comprised of noodles with black bean paste, noodles, vegetables, potatoes, onions, and (most of the time) pork belly. What small difference that exists between the Chinese and Korean variations of this dish is seen in the sauces. Jajangmyun uses a bitter black bean paste whereas zha jiang mian uses a sweet bean paste. Furthermore, different sauces are used throughout China alone, making this difference both a national and international one.  Although the bitter taste of the paste used in jajangmyun is cooked off, the coloration of the dish is much darker than that of its predecessor.

This subtle difference does not detract from the prominent role that jajangmyun plays in Korean dining. You can find it very easily in Korea and even some places around America. Just last weekend I tried jajangmyun at Hankook Supermarket in Sunnyvale, and I clearly see why it is such a large part of contemporary Korean cuisine. Not only is it quick to make, but it is also filling and easy to eat. From little kids to old people, jajangmyun appeals to just about everyone. And on top of that it is inexpensive to buy or make. This is definitely the next item on my weekend “to-cook” list.

Jajangmyun (Courtesy of Dolsot Bibimbap)

Zha Jiang Mian (Courtesy of 3 Hungry Tummies)

Sources:

Wikipedia – Jajangmyun

Wikipedia – Zha Jiang Mian

Red Cook – Zha Jiang Mian

The Kimchi Chronicles – The Noodle and Dumpling Chronicles

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Food

 

Seoul

Seoul is the home of contemporary Korean cuisine. From bibimbap to beef bulgogi, this Korean metropolis provides a taste of the more commonly known Korean dishes. The area that makes up modern day Seoul has been the capital of Korea since the late 1300’s. But more interestingly, Seoul has gone from a desolate battlefield during the Korean War to becoming the technological epicenter of the world. Besides being the first in East Asia to obtain telephones and other electronic devices, Korea has become a leader in modern technological advancements such as high speed wireless communication. Their technological infrastructure is rated as one of the top in the nation, ranging from best wireless transmission to some of the most efficient transportation in the world. Now that their technological infrastructure is so advanced, Seoul is dedicated to developing their green technology. According to the Huffington Post, Seoul’s government set a goal in 2010 to reduce energy usage 15% and greenhouse gases 25% by the year 2020. Because of all this, Seoul is a clear representation of modern Korean culture.

Seoul in the midst of the Korean War

 

Samsung building in Seoul

Sources:

Wikipedia – Seoul

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Cities

 

The Korean War (in color)

Korea’s history before the Korean War was one of brutality and foreign occupation. Although this war was truly one of the clashing political ideologies of the East and the West, the Korean War gave South Korea the chance to thrive and become its own country free of foreign influence and occupation. To further my understanding of the Korean War, I watched a documentary titled Korean War in Color. This film used actual footage from the Korean War and paired it with voice over commentary. Although the documentary does not focus too much on the Korean perspective of the Korean War, it still provides a clear image of how intense and uncertain the war was. Claiming over 3 million lives, the Korean War is the most devastating war in Korean history. Though primarily fought between UN and Communist troops, the war had a particularly huge effect on South Korean citizens. At the beginning of the war, North Korea took South Korea by surprise and quickly conquered the majority of the country. In fact, South Korean territory had been reduced to a small area around the Busan peninsula, making Busan the temporary capital during the Korean War. However, this quickly turned around once UN troops became involved in the conflict. After three years of territory constantly exchanging hands, a cease fire agreement was signed. Although technically not a peace treaty, this was the symbolic ending of the Korean War. Now, almost 60 years after the Korean War, South Korea has transformed into this modern marvel. It’s amazing that after all of the damage done during the Korean War South Korea has become an entirely new, independent nation.

A nighttime view of Seoul, the capital of South Korea (Courtesy of Trey Ratcliff)

Sources:

Korean War in Color

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in History

 

Seafood and Fish Markets

Korea’s vast amount of coastal access makes fish a central part of the Korean diet. Their fish markets are thus some of the most distinguished in the world. Noryangjin Fish Market in is the 2nd biggest fish market in Korea. Located in Seoul, this fish market contains 700,000 square feet of fish stalls. Wholesale auctions, where grocers and retailers bid on vast amounts of fish, start in the wee hours of the morning. However, general shoppers go to the less intense parts of the fish market where stall owners sell individual fresh fish that can be taken to restaurants within Noryangjin market. What makes Noryangjin and other Korean fish markets unique is that the shop owners will clean, fillet, and portion your fish, saving you a ton of work when you get home to cook. Additionally, the seller will give you the bones and trimmings to keep, as they are seen as a great source of nutrients. For example, the Gomjangeo Restaurant on the Busan peninsula gives you a fresh, semi-portioned fish to grill at your table, expecting you to leave the bones in the fish until after it has cooked through. If there is one thing to know about Korean food besides what kimchi is, it’s that fish is important in understanding Korean food.

Haemul Soon Doobu (Seafood, Tofu, and Vegetable Soup courtesy of The High Tea)

Sources:

The Kimchi Chronicles: The Fish Chronicles

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Cities, Food

 

Pajeon

Pajeon, or Korean rice pancakes, come in many different varieties. They all start with the same base, but each variation is filled different meats and vegetables. A Korean pajeon base is generally made of rice flour. This is in part because rice is a Korean staple, but it also stems from the fact that rice flour makes the base crispier. However, rice flour is not common in America and thus many pajeon recipes made for the American kitchen use wheat flour instead. Although pajeon can be made into an entrée, it is normally served as an appetizer, side dish, or snack. In Korea, the makeup of your pajeon is highly dependent upon which region it’s coming from. For example, the Kyongsang Province has major coastal access, making haemul pajeon (seafood rice pancakes) the specialty pajeon of that region. Since my latest research was focused on Busan, which happens to be a city in the Southern Kyongsang region, I decided I will make haemul paejon this weekend, using rice flour and buying fresh fish from the Korean market to make it as authentic as possible.

Haemul Pajeon (Courtesy of John Chow)

Sources:

Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History (by Michael J. Pettid)

The Kimchi Chronicles: The Rice Chronicles

Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook (by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall)

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Food