Looking for an authentic culinary experience? Then you should check out my article 5 Uniquely Korean foods to try. Few cuisines have been as influenced by their country’s history as Korea. Part of Korean culture revolves around the passing of recipes from one generation to the next.
It is this generational passing of knowledge that has led to the current Korean Menu that we all know and love today. Each generation has added their life experiences to these dishes creating the amazing culinary fare that has captivated the heart of so many around the world. Read this article to learn more about five of these amazing dishes.
- Mul-Naengmyeon – Cold Noodles in chilled broth
- Jokbal – Korean Braised Pork Leg
- Dotori-Muk – Korean Acorn Jelly
- Soondae or Sundae- Korean Blood Sausage
- Samgyetang – Ginseng Chicken Soup
About Korean Cuisine
When discussing Korean cuisine, it is important to consider the role history has played regarding the Korean palette. Korean culture is steeped in history and one can begin exploring the topic by simply visiting any local Korean restaurant. The menu will be full of traditional foods that can often be traced back many generations. Food has become an important way to keep the memory of family members alive, Many traditional recipes have, in fact, been passed down from parent to child for centuries.
1. Mul-Naengmyeon – Cold Noodles in chilled broth
Naengmyeon was traditionally eaten in the Winter time and is thought to have originated in the Pyongyang region because the buckwheat was harvested there in late autumn and was perfect for making the noodles when the weather became colder. The noodles were typically served with dongchimi a water-based radish kimchi.
In the early 20th century the dish gained popularity in Seoul and by the 1920’s hundreds of restaurants had begun serving the cold noodles as it quickly became a Summertime favorite to beat the heat.
After the Korean War, people fleeing from the Pyongan-do area sought shelter around Namsan Mountain district of Seoul. While these newcomers to the city craved their traditional foods, there were often problems finding the ingredients and the traditional radish broth was eventually replaced with a richer tasting chilled meat broth.
At the same time people from the Hwanghae-do area resettled near the Jungbu market and Ojang-dong’s Cheonggyecheon River. While Naengmyeon was also a tradition, their traditional broth was slightly different as it featured a pork base with soy sauce and sugar added for flavor. While less popular than the Pyongan-do Naengmyeon ‘Hamheung Gombo Naengmyeon’ and ‘Ojang-dong Hamheung Naengmyeon’ still remain popular in certain areas of the country to this day.
In addition to Seoul, people from Hwanghae-do also fled to Baengnyeongdo Island where their cuisine flourished. They took advantage of local ingredients and added sand eel fish sauce to further flavor the dish and Bupyeong Mak guksu, Byeongane Ongjin Naengmyeon, and Baengnyeongdo ‘Sagot Naengmyeon are all types of this cold noodle offering.
Daejeon also contributed Naengmyeon made from chicken and dongchimi soup broth after Park Geun-sung opened a popular family restaurant in the area. As you can see, each region has taken the original recipe and altered it to meet the expectations and resources that were available in their new home and the results are one uniquely Korean Food.
2. Jokbal – Korean Braised Pork Leg
Jokbal has become a favorite nighttime food of Koreans and is made from the leg of a pig that is boiled in a soy based broth with various spices and rice wine vinegar and then is chilled. Jokbal is considered to be anju in Korea or food that you eat when you drink.
Jokbal and Bossam are often confused by foreigners but the Jokbal made with the pig trotter while Bossam is made with pork belly. Additionally, with Jokbal, the skin and fat are left attached. Both are served with ssam (Veggies used to wrap) typically some type of lettuce or cabbage and Jokbal features a salty shrimp paste called saeujeot.
The dish is said to have originated in the Pyeongan-do and Hwanghae-do provinces in the northern part of the peninsula but the dish now being served is often credited to Chef Lee Kyeong-Sunwas a refugee from North Korea and self taught chef that opened a popular Jokbal restaurant in the 1960s.
While the taste is reason enough to try Jokbal, the dish is also loaded with collagen and part of it’s popularity in Korea likely stems from its perceived ability to reduce the effects of aging on the skin. While this dish began, as many have in Korea, as a way to to overcome food shortages during difficult times, today, the preparation of Jokbal has been raised to an art form that is listed in the prestigious Michelin Guide alongside other culinary masterpieces around the world.
Use the following link for a recipe you can try at home: https://koreankitchencardiff.com/2020/06/07/jokbal-korean-braised-pork-leg/
3. Dotori-muk – Korean Acorn Jelly
Dotori-Muk is Jelly made from the nut of the Tori tree. Tori was the name given to Oak trees in Ancient Korea. The dish became popular after the Japanese first invaded the country, and villagers assisted King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty as he fled North for reinforcements.
The story is that the Villagers wanted to prepare a feast for their King when he arrived, but the only food available at the time were the acorns or nuts from the Tori tree. The villagers, not ones who give up easily, created a Jelly from the starch of the Acorn to provide the King a meal to sustain him on his journey. When the King finally went back to his palace, he ordered that the Dotori-Muk continue to be served as a reminder of the hardships the country had overcome.
Today the dish is typically served in three ways; 1. As a side dish where it is served with other accompaniments like soy sauce and veggies, 2. it Is tossed with veggies, often green onions to create a salad, and finally, 3. It can be served with an ice cold broth, with veggies and rice. In this form the jelly is slice to look like noodles and it is eaten together. Again this tie to the country’s habit for overcoming difficult situations makes this food uniquely Korean.
Use the following link for more information: https://10mag.com/korean-food-dotorimuk-201209/
4. Sundae or Soondae- Korean Blood Sausage
Go to any local market in Korea on any given weekend morning and you will see many of the city’s resident sitting around a table with a pot in the middle full of assorted pig parts, and organs sipping on Soju and chatting happily together.
Sundea or Korean Blood Sausage is a local favorite which was once a luxury food traditionally served for family celebrations and gatherings and was made from the intestine of a cow or pig stuffed with meat and vegetables.
That all changed after the Korean War started when food shortages forced local culinarians to shift from rare meats and vegetables to cellophane noodles called dangmyeon and pig’s blood. The food became popular at local markets and was usually paired with boiled pig organs to ensure nothing went to waste.
While today, Korea’s economy is thriving, the tradition of eating Sundae and organ meat at the market remains very popular, particularly in the wintertime or on rainy days. It is typically served three ways; 1. Steamed with side of organ meat, 2. Boiled and served in a Miso style broth with veggies and organ meat and finally, 3. Stir fried served with veggies, usually some type of cabbage, and aromatics like garlic and onion with dangmyeon noodles and a spicy chili paste.
Today, it can also be found served alone from food trucks or street vendors and every corner of the country has its own recipe. The northern regions tend to have more veggies in the stuffing while coastal areas, particularly in the east use squid instead of intestines and stuff it full of various ingredients including ground pork and veggies.
Still other regions use their own recipes as well. Some focus on tofu fillings, others on meat and barley and still others use noodles. Wherever you go you are sure to find a recipe that brings the regions own unique style into its creation and that is why Sundae is truly a uniquely Korean dish.
For more information check out the following link: https://roadsandkingdoms.com/2012/sundae/
5. Samgyetang – Ginseng Chicken Soup
Samgyetang is a soup flavored with chicken, ginseng, glutinous rice, jujube (red dates), garlic and other ingredients and seasonings. While every culture seems to have some type of Chicken Soup, the Korean version of Samgyetang is something more. The soup provides the healing power of Ginseng root and is thought to help one overcome the suppressive heat of the Korean Summer.
According to noted Korean food researchers Yu-jin Kim and Dai-ja Jang of the Korean Food Research Institute, Samgyetang’s roots go back to Yeongebacksuk which was a young chicken soup lightly flavored. This became Gyesamtang or Yeongebacksuk flavored with ginseng powder. In the 1960s, however, Korea began to cultivate Ginseng and local restaurants started to use real ginseng root to improve the flavor continuing the evolution into the Samgyetang we know today.
Samgyetang is traditionally eaten on on the three hottest days of Sambok or Summer called Chobok, Jungbok and Malbok. According to legend, during the dog days of Summer the body looses its strength because Yin energy is weak allowing Yang to put pressure on the body.
In ancient eastern culture the Summer is tied to the element of fire where as the Autumn is tied to metal, because fire can overcome metal and make it bend to its will, the belief is that on the three hottest days, Autumn is forced to succumb to Summer. During this period, the body needs help to fend of pressure from Yang. It is this tradition that makes Samgyetang so uniquely Korean.
For more information on why Samgyetang is considered so healthy, check out the following link: https://koreascience.kr/article/CFKO201718459284959.pdf
6. Beondegi- Korean Silkworm Pupae
Beondegi is a unique Korean delicacy that gained popularity after the start of the Korean War during the 20 year famine. While it is true the origins of this dish date back further, some say the early 1920s, it did not gain national acceptance until this time. After the war, sources of protein were scarce and Beondegi became a staple food that helped the society survive these difficult times.
The Pupae can be found either boiled or steamed and are available in most traditional Korean Markets. If eating them this way seems a little too much for your first try, you can also try Beondegi-Tang or Silkworm Soup which is typically flavored with garlic and chiles to add just a bit of spice to the dish.
Today the dish has also gained popularity as a late night bar food and can be found in many of the country’s trendiest locations in Seoul. It is also quite popular in Busan, try the market area around Hyundae Beach. Most cities feature some version of this dish and this is what makes Beondegi uniquely Korean.
For more information click on the following links: https://matadornetwork.com/read/beondegi/
Click on the link below for a short video: https://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180419000621
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