Did you know that L.A.-style galbi is famous in South Korea? If the answer is no, then bone up (what better term) on this and other little known facts about Korean cuisine with a 10-point guide that will make you sound like an expert.
1. L.A.-style galbi (grilled, marinated beef short ribs): In Korea, chefs use a vertical cut of beef that they slice by hand to preserve the texture. Here, the meat is cut horizontally with a slicer, not a knife, and usually has two or three small bones in the center. Korean Americans have adopted the local, cheaper cut, although it produces less tender galbi. It has even made its way to Korea, where LA galbi is regarded as a cool western innovation.
2. Anju: Anju is the Korean word for bar food, and it's lighter and healthier than nachos, fries, onion rings and their ilk. Korean bar noshers eat such things as chicken skewers with veggies, fried mung bean pancakes, egg-battered zucchini or fish, pork wrapped in fresh leaves with kimchi and other small bites that offer more sustenance than grease.
3. Makgeolli (maguli): High-powered cocktails may be popular, but Korea's makgeolli is the safer way to go, because its alcohol content is below 7 per cent. Made from fermented steamed rice, barley or wheat, makgeolli is creamy, with a touch of sweetness. You can buy it in Korean markets here.
4. Banchan (panchan): If you judge a restaurant by the number of these side dishes it serves, you're right. The amount is a status symbol in Korean culture. A king would have been served at least 100. Dinner with the boss requires no less than five, and with future in-laws, seven or more. So turn up your nose at places that offer only a paltry two or three side dishes.
5. Bibimbap: What is the most popular Korean dish? Among westerners, barbecued meats. Among Koreans, the hot rice mixture called bibimbap. From humble origins as a catch-all for leftover vegetables, it has become a top dish in its own right.
6. Geotjeori kimchi: You think that kimchi is really complicated and has to ferment for months before it's ready to eat? Not so. Geotjeori kimchi takes only 10 minutes. It's a dressing composed of kimchi seasonings that you toss with salad greens. See the recipe, from Chef Kiyong Jang of Yongsusan in Koreatown.
7. Kimchi refrigerators: Traditionally, kimchi ferments in stone pots outdoors. This may be the old way, but modern Korean homes now have kimchi refrigerators, which keep the spicy pickle at the ideal, steady low temperature to encourage fermentation. It certainly beats trekking out in the snow to get some for dinner.
8. Soju: Soju may be the national drink of Korea, but it didn't originate there. This distilled beverage, made from fermented rice and/or other grains, originated in China and traveled through Mongolia to Korea, where it has been popular for centuries.
9. Balance: Throw away your prescriptions and eat Korean food. Well, not really, but traditional Korean food is designed to produce a healthy balance in the body. For example, pork is regarded as "cold" even though it may be hot when you eat it. One way to achieve balance is to add chives, which are "hot." And it's customary to eat the cold noodle dish naengmyeon in winter. Have a cold? Drink hot ginger tea to dose yourself with hot energy. Or cool the heat of a fever by eating a poached Korean pear.
10. Vegetarianism: Koreans eat lots of meat, true or false. The answer is, not always. After the death of a parent, they don't eat meat for a period of time. Today, vegetarianism is on the rise. And what is really popular is temple food, mildly seasoned dishes that are drawn from Buddhist tradition, sourced locally and eaten in season--just like we're trying to do here.
Yongsusan's Quick Kimchi Salad Dressing
Makes: 1/2 cup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno chile
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped Asian pear
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Ground roasted sesame seed
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1. Mix the soy sauce, water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the jalapeno chile and stir.
2. Remove the mixture from the heat. Add the garlic, pear, chili powder and sesame oil. Let cool. Taste and add more soy sauce if wanted.
3. Add the dressing to salad greens such as red and green leaf lettuce, the inner part of Napa cabbage and any salad vegetables you like, including carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts and cucumber.
4. Sprinkle with ground roasted sesame seed and toss until combined,