Cuisine Spotlight: Korean
When it comes to takeaway food in the UK, Korean has historically taken a back seat behind Chinese, Thai and more recently Japanese food. But with hip Korean eateries springing up around the country, the time has arrived for our taste buds to sit up and take notice of this diverse and exciting cuisine. With its roots in the ancient Manchuria and Korean peninsula, Korean cuisine has evolved over centuries. Unlike many other countries there has been little interference from the outside world, helping to preserve culinary customs and create a distinctly unique cuisine.
Get a flavour blast from the past with kickin’ Korean food!
Rice, vegetables and meat form the basis of most Korean cooking but this wasn’t always the case. Barley and millet were the primary grains consumed before white rice was introduced in the modern era. As rice was expensive, it was mixed with other grains or beans to make it go further, with dishes like boribap (rice with barley) and kongbap (rice with beans) still made today. A staple food in Korean prisons, kongbap has suffered from bad associations for a long time but recent health food trends has seen this ancient recipe make a come-back into ordinary Korean kitchens.
When it comes to vegetables, Korean food covers the gamut from raw salads, preserved pickled veggies and cooked stews and stir fries. Along with the usual suspects like cabbage, radish, potato and mushrooms, Korean cuisine makes use of wild greens like aster scaber and wild vegetables such as bracken fern. Beef and pork have been eaten in Korea since antiquity, with the former having particular cultural significance and their own ‘cow day’ in the Lunar New Year! Chicken and seafood are also major components of Korean diets. Every part of the chicken is used in cooking and its cultural importance is honoured in many Korean myths and legends.
Korean cuisine is so intrinsic to the culture it is considered part of the national identity. Many important holidays and ceremonies involve making specific dishes. On a baby’s 100th day a feast with sea mustard soup and steamed rice cakes is prepared and this happens again with additional dishes made on their first birthday. Weddings are a whole other level of feasting fun. Chestnuts and jujubes represent fertility and are given to the bride as well as the groom’s father, while Korean steamed beef patties, beef jerky and braised chicken are gifted to the groom’s mother. Signifying longevity, noodle soup is served to all the wedding guests…good cooking and good will – huzzah!
During a traditional Korean funeral a spicy soup-like dish called yukgaejang is served with the belief that its red chilli powder will ward off ghosts and spirits. And when it comes to the biggest party of the year – Korean New Year – tteokguk is eaten across the country. A broth made with thinly sliced rice cakes, tteokguk is meant to bring good luck for the forthcoming year and an extra year of life to the consumer. All this and a tasty soup topped with sliced egg and seaweed – Happy New Year indeed.
Banchan is the Korean word for a side dish and they are another component of traditional Korean cuisine. Served in small portions in the middle of the table for sharing, the more formal the occasion, the more banchan there generally are. There are many different types of banchan, including namul (steamed or stir fried vegetables), bokkeum (sauce based stir fry), jjim (steamed dish) and jeon (pancake-like dish). But the most famous of them all has to be kimchi.
Perhaps the most loved banchan and certainly the most known in the UK, kimchi can be served with every meal in Korea. Made by fermenting vegetables – usually napa cabbage – seasoned with chilli and salt, spicy kimchi is as common an accompaniment to Korean food as parmesan cheese is to pasta or tomato sauce to burgers, sausages and chips!
Whether you want a comforting stew, flavour packed street food or a fiery dish to set your mouth alight – Korean cuisine has your cravings covered. Want to dive in but don’t know where to begin? Consider ordering a bibimbap! This popular dish is a terrifically tasty rice bowl topped with various meat and veggies, an egg and seasonings. Check out the menu at Kalbi Korean BBQ and Sushi in Clerkenwell for some brilliant bibimbap action.
Or perhaps it’s a hearty broth like Korean Kimchi Soup with pork belly and tofu that’s whetting your appetite. Of course it is! So check out Mr Ma in Newington, they also serve up great Korean pancakes and cold noodles too. For incredible handmade grilled pork dumplings, pork or beef ball soup and spicy fried squid it’s Arirang in Shawell that you can count on. Bulgogi – marinated topside beef stir fried with fresh mixed veggies is always a satisfying option when Korean cuisine is on the menu and Ginnan makes a winning version.
Of course if you’re seeking the best Korean restaurants in the country then New Malden is a fantastic place to look! Home to the biggest Korean community in Europe, New Malden has a slew of sensational Korean restaurants like Ohaio offering excellent takeaway. Koreans are known for their lively drinking culture as well as awesome culinary arts, which makes home delivery a particularly great idea…you can kick back with a cold one while your Korean dinner is delivered to your door. Once you taste the spicy kimchi…you might need it!
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