While reading the Philippine Daily Inquirer today, I came across this interesting write-up by Chef Reggie Aspiras on Korean food. It can sound a bit like dialogue from Jewel in the Palace sometimes (especially with all the talk about food as medicine), but I think it provides a very insightful peek at the philosophy behind Korean cuisine. I have reposted the article below:
‘Kalbi,’ ‘bulgogi,’ ‘bibimbap’ — the yin and yang of Korean food
from Kitchen Rescue
by Reggie Aspiras
THERE is more to Korean food than kalbi and bulgogi. In fact, it is one of the most interesting, intricate and most rigorously prepared cuisines in the world, with a history dating back centuries.
Korean food is philosophical, according to Han Bok-ryeo, director of the Institute of Royal Cuisine. Korean food is a great source of energy; it goes beyond physical strength. Food and medicine are grown from the same root, therefore, there is no better medicine than food.
Han adds that the principles of yin and yang plus the five elements explain how all things in nature grow on the basis of mutual interactions. The twin energies (wood, fire, soil, metal and water) and five cardinal colors (blue, red, yellow, white and black), corresponding to the five basic elements.
“Colored ingredients are blended, ths producing foods that allow the body to efficiently absorb the nutrients and to stimulate the appetite through the five essential tastes–salty, hot, sweet, bitter and sour.
“Korea’s court cuisine is very gracious and assorted, and the dishes on the royal table complement each other.
“Sarusang (royal table) consists of 12 side dishes, and there is reason for that. Each side dish is different in color, divided into yin and yang energy foods.
“Meat dishes and vegetable dishes are cooked using different cooking methods and arranged differently as well. When all 12 dishes are arranged on the table, you will taste nature.”
I was fortunate to have had the chance to sit down and ask Lee Dukyung, general manager of the soon-to-open Korean Cultural Center (which will offer authentic Korean cooking lessons in May); Seong Un Hwang, director of the Korean Cultural Center and Counselor for Culture and Public Affairs of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea; and Yang Seung Woo, chef of Kaya Restaurant, some questions about their food culture.
“The basic taste of our food is spicy, but it is different from dish to dish. The characteristic taste of Korean food is, in fact, all five tastes,” says Lee Dukyung and chef Yang Seung Woo.
What is a typical Korean meal?
“All meals always have rice and soup; then we have bulgogi, kimchi–as banchan (side dishes). Our main course is rice and soup.
“If we don’t have rice and soup, it is never a meal. Unlike the way Westerners eat, each person has a bowl of rice and soup, set with a spoon and chopsticks to the right, then the banchan side dishes, served in the center of the table. There are hundreds of recipes of different side dishes in Korea.
“We have soup and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the number of side dishes depends from family to family. Usually, during breakfast and lunch, there are three. Our biggest meal is dinner, so we have a bit more, maybe five.
“In the past, mothers and wives cooked all the meals, but today, many dine out. Our food is hard to prepare because of the many side dishes, and our food industry now is very diverse–you can eat anything you want.
Imperial and regular meals
“The main difference between an imperial meal and a regular meal is that royal cuisine makes use of so many ingredients from teh land, sea, mountain. Also, the chef thinks a lot of the presentation and decoration.
“Ingredients that give character to Korean food include soy sauce, kugujang, chili powder and soybean paste.
“Kimchi remains the most popular dish to us Koreans; there are so many different kinds of it.”
According to Lee Dukyung: Fermented food is a big part of our cuisine. Fermentation brings out benefits and good bacteria for good health and nutrition.”
How about bibimbap, now tagged as the next super health food, made popular by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow? Of course, hers is done with brown rice.
According to Lee Dukyung, Seong Un Hwang and chef Yang Seung Woo: “Bibimbap means mixed dish or dish/meal to be mixed.”
“There are different kinds of bibimbap, that’s why the name of the city comes before bibimbap. The most famous is Jeonju-style bibimbap–the cooking vessel is bronze and cooked there. Andong-style bibimbap has mixed vegetables, and Tongyeong-style bibimbap comes with seaweed.
“What makes bibimbap different from one place to another is that only the best endemic ingredients grown from a certain province or locale go into each bowl of bibimbap.”
Chef Aspiras promised to feature a bibimbap recipe next week (and you all know I am a huge promoter of bibimbap and other Korean food) so I’ll be reposting that as well soon. Gosh, this write-up just makes me so hungry! 정말 배고파요!!! (^~^)