Food

A taste of Korea's culinary art

Ivan Gonzalo Perez

Korea’s food is marked y the four seasons, and Living in Peru got a full tour.

Thanks to the invitation of the Korean Ambassador in Lima, Mr. Keun Ho Jang, we had the opportunity to attend the event “Culinary Art of Korea,” which had three top chefs visiting from abroad with the objective of promoting Asian cuisine.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn of the concepts behind traditional food in Korea, especially in these times when it seems that accelerated lifestyles are deciding our lives, and our increasing technological advancement has become a symbol of our development.

Since the invention of the refrigerator and industrialized agriculture, use of seasonal ingredients has decreased, and we have begun to move beyond old methods of conservation and preservation of food, especially in big cities.

For this reason, to take a moment and look back at the past, to the old ways of knowing and doing, is always motivating and promotes reflections on our current eating habits.

In Korea, the four seasons are very marked and this fact has greatly influenced the development of its kitchen. Conversing with the Korean Ambassador’s wife, Mrs. Soon Ki Kwon, I learned the medicinal role attributed to food, in which the regenerative and healing role of food is enhanced. Also, the use of ingredients available in every season is valued, and they use concepts like: complementary opposites, the harmony of colors and shapes, and the location of the dishes and diners.

Thus, in traditional Korean food there are specific menus for all four seasons. In addition to using seasonal products, they prepare the dishes with the purpose of helping the body to face each season.

For example, protein and calories are increased in winter by adding the use of meat and vegetables. And since more time is usually spent at home, food plays an integral role in families. Dishes like Ogokbab (cooked rice mixed with five grains) or Gae-gamjeon (crab stew) are examples of winter food.

summer food
(Photo: Ivan Gonzalo Perez)

In summer, to accompany the hot weather and the presence of rain, dishes relieving fatigue and loss of appetite are prepared. For example, we have the Samgyetang (cold chicken soup with ginseng) or the traditional Omijacha (infusion of schisandra berries, where you can also taste five flavors at once: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy).

The main ingredient used in Korean food is rice (bab), which accompanies meat and raw or cooked vegetables (boiled or steamed). A world-famous example is the Bibimbap which, nutritionally speaking, is well-balanced by having appropriate proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins. This dish is made with cooked rice, beef, bell flower root, royal fern (Kobi), bean sprouts, cucumbers, grated carrots, shiitake mushrooms with miyoshi minks and egg.

Kimchi
(Photo: Ivan Gonzalo Perez)

Another popular dish is the kimchi, which is consumed daily as a side and it is made from fermented vegetables. As a product of fermentation it contains beneficial bacteria, organic acids and other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. For these reasons, it is said that kimchi can have detoxifying, antioxidant and anticancer effects.

But the experience that we had was not only theoretical, but the friendly chefs, headed by Ms. Kim Young Joo, and her companions, of the Korean Food Institute, were kind enough to prepare two traditional dishes for us.

The first was a Chapchae, delicious sweet potatoe noodles with vegetables and beef, where tradition says that the ingredients sould be sautéed seperately in order of color (first the lighter colors), starting with the onion and ending with the mushrooms and meat. It was very interesting to know and try the sweet potato noodles, for its texture and alightly sweet taste. Also, the noodles are quite long, and precisely why they are served in Korea and prepared for parties and special banquets, as they are associated with long life and prosperity.

chapchae
(Photo: Ivan Gonzalo Perez)

They also prepared Bulgogi for us (or Korean barbecue), delicious beef cut into thin strips marinated in a soy sauce, scallions, garlic, black pepper, seeds and sesame oil.

Finally we were finally presented and tried the spectacular Korean pear, something unknow in Peru, large with light brown skin, juicy, moderately sweet and delicious with a subtle smell. A delight.

It was definitely an experience to remember, mainly for the kindness, generosity and hospitality of the Korean Ambassador and his wife; the guest chefs, and people who organized the event and the quality of the food.

In Lima you can visit excellent Korean restaurants such as Dos Hermanos (Av. Aviación 4812, Surco) and Arirang Cho (Calle Las Orquídeas 447, San Isidro), also you can find the ingredients of Korean cuisine in the markets of Chinatown or Av. Aviación.

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