An Introduction to Korean Food

July 4th, 2017
An Introduction to Korean Food

Dear Friends,

This month I thought I would step away from talking about music and talk about my other obsession in life: food. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We musicians are often obsessed with things that elevate our senses, transport us to other cultures and bring people together.

It's been a few years since I have been back to visit my home country of South Korea. Following my concert in Hong Kong in the beginning of June, my husband Richard and I made our way there to visit my family. It was his first visit to Korea - there was a lot to be seen, experienced, and most importantly, eaten! Korean food is unlike like any other Asian cuisine - and although Korean barbecue is widely known, it is actually only a small part of Korean cuisine. Korean beef is an expensive ingredient, so growing up we only had Korean barbecue on special occasions. Here are my five favorite Korean dishes that everyone must try (and won’t break the bank).

1. Sulongtang - best food for a gloomy morning

When I was growing up, my mom always gave me some kind of soup next to a bowl of rice. Then came a few different kinds banchan (side dishes, kimchi is a very important banchan for every meal). Perhaps the one dish I miss the most is a beef bone broth soup called Sulongtang. It has a milky white color, and is served hot with thin pieces of beef and a small portion of rice noodles. It’s finished with a seasoning of fried salt and chopped green onions and served alongside a bowl of rice. May Koreans eat Sulongtang for breakfast as it is nutritious, comforting, and makes a wonderful cure to a hangover.


2. Budaejiggae jungol or "army soup"- perfect for a casual dinner with a large group

I'll admit it... Koreans love ramen noodles and canned meat. This soup pays homage to the Korean War, when meat was scarce. During this time, Koreans were introduced to American canned meat and started to incorporate Spam and Vienna sausages to kimchi stew. This stew/soup is served family style and contains gochujang (Korean hot paste), dduk (rice cakes), vegetable, and ramen noodles. Be warned, this isn't for the health conscious!


3. Mandoo - what to eat on the go

This is the Korean take on dumplings, although they're completely different from the freezer to fryer kind I find in most Asian restaurants. During this most recent visit to Korea we were hooked on handmade kimchi and meat dumplings that were carefully crafted by hand then steamed. They look like little works of art. It is a perfect size for one bite, and the texture is always light and delicate while the filling is full of wonderful flavors. With a little vinegar soy sauce and with danmooji (picked radish), Mandoo are perfect for a light bite on the go.


4. "Dwenjang jiggae or nangmyeon"- how to finish off a Korean BBQ meal

If you ever go to a traditional Korean BBQ restaurant, you'll be asked this question after you have consumed the meat and vegetable portion of the meal. Dwenjang jiggae refers to a hot fermented soybean soup with tofu and peppers- a true staple for Korean cuisine. It smells and looks terrible but tastes great. Nangmyeon is a popular summer choice - chilled chewy buckwheat noodles prepared either in ice cold beef broth (you'll actually see ice cubes in the broth) or in sweet gochujang sauce. Asian pear, cucumber, and hard boiled eggs make appearance as garnishes to these dishes. It’s a refreshing finish to a big meal!


4. Gopdol bibimbap - down to the traditions

Bibimbap consists of rice and a variety of pickled and cooked vegetables, mixed in with gochujang and sesame oil. Sometimes there are bits of beef and a fried egg on top. Back in the day, this was a dish that workers made for themselves using whatever was leftover after a formal meal was served (similarly, Sulongtang was also created this way: by making broth out of leftover bones once the “good meat” had been carved off for barbecue). Today, bibimbap can be found in fancy restaurants, and is often served with exotic vegetables, roots and delicious marinated beef. My favorite version is served in a hot stone bowl, which turns the bottom layer of into crispy rice chips. Every bite gets a little crunch that way.


I hope that this was a good introduction to traditional Korean food! I hope you look for these dishes next time you visit a Korean restaurant. I have a feeling I’ll be headed to one soon - all this food talk has made my mouth water!
Bon appetit!