Browsing through the myriad of food blogs on the internet, I came across one that reported Ruth Reichl having said Korean is the next American. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been eating and enjoying Korean way before she mustered the authority to categorise Korean as the next American. Suffice it to say, I think her statement is really rather passé. But none the less, she is a revered American food writer and critique and as all people who predict and set trends, be it in fashion or food, what she says goes. Don’t be surprised that the next American who you may have the chance to speak to is singing about Korean food.
Reichl’s statement has put Korean food on the map for lots of people who haven’t tasted this country’s spicy cuisine.
Korean food is very unlike their neighbouring Japan’s. Firstly, it is very spicy for those with a delicate palate. Secondly, Korean food contains a variety of vegetables and can be almost vegetarian although meats like beef, pork and chicken do feature in the cuisine, along with fish. There is a lot more usage of sesame oil which in my observation, douses all their little dishes. Sesame oil can be detrimental for people with nut allergies, so beware, if you’re one of them. And speaking of little dishes, the Koreans do like serving small dishes of vegetables, pickled with a spicy red chilli paste called gochujang or simply dressed with sesame oil and salt.
These little dishes, known as banchan, are side dishes, usually served with rice. The most common banchan is kimchi, which is served with every meal. There are many varieties of kimchi, the most common being made with napa cabbage. This fermented spicy vegetable side dish is also the main ingredient in many popular Korean dishes, like the kimchi stew, kimchi fried rice, which is incidentally very scrumptious and kimchi soup, which is similar to the tom yam, only less sour.
I wanted to spice up my day and the natural choice of cuisine could only be Korean. It had been a long morning. I had errands to run because we were expecting some guests and I had just finished counting up the money that we had made for Save Japan Day at school. All the addition and sorting out the float which consisted of lots of centimes made me hungry. Fortunately for me, down the road from the secondary school where SS attends, there is a Korean.
I needed some carbs today and settled very quickly for the bibimbap. This dish has such a cute ring to it. It sounds exotic and musical to my ears because I don’t speak Korean as all foreign words tend to sound to the ear of a stranger. I learnt later that bibimbap really is a rather prosaic and ordinary word in Korean which means mixed meal. This signature dish is served as a bowl of white rice crowned with sautéed vegetables and gochujang, a hot chilli paste. Topping the vegetables and rice is an egg fried sunny side up, with the yolk still runny. Slivers of bulgogi beef can be added too, if one fancies a little red meat. The bibimbap is served in a stone bowl, directly from the fire to your table, it is so hot that you can hear the ingredients sizzling.
As soon as the bowl is served, the attendant/waiting staff mixes the rice, vegetables and egg up for you. Usually this version of bibimbap which is called dolsot bibimbap is served with a raw egg that gets cooked very quickly in the mixing against the hot stone bowl.
It was totally sedap, kawan kawan. The gochujang gave it that right amount of heat and spice. The sesame oil left a film of nuttiness so redolent of childhood meals for me. I love eating plain rice congee flavoured with sesame oil and soya sauce on rainy days or when the weather turns from summer to autumn.
The bibimbap is really a meal in itself as the name suggests. But my eyes being substantially bigger than my stomach saw on the menu a side order of kimchi which I of course asked for. The banchan of kimchi came in a variety of legumes, some pickled in a spicy viniagrette and others sautéed with sesame oil and salt. These little dishes were great accompaniments to white rice and as I was savouring each dish, I also thought that they would go great with plain white rice congee or chook as they say in Cantonese.
Well, kawan kawan, I really recommend that you try Korean, if you haven’t already. You don’t want to miss out on the next American trend, do you?