From kimchi to rice cakes: Korean cuisine has something for every foodie

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Traditional Cabbage Kimchi
Updated 27 April 2017

From kimchi to rice cakes: Korean cuisine has something for every foodie

If you visit South Korea, there are two things you have to keep in mind. Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine and is also a word you say when posing for a picture. In Korea, it is, “Say kimchi!” instead of “Say cheese!”
Kimchi is a banchan (Korean for “side dish”) that you will find on any Korean dining table. There are over 200 varieties of kimchi, which is part of the Korean history that goes thousands of years back. It is made from spicy, salty fermented vegetables, mainly cabbage. The fermentation process can take from two days to two weeks, depending on the method. The taste may be strong and spicy, but Korean cuisine has a variety of other healthy mild dishes that could actually be bland for some.
If you want to immerse yourself in the Korean food culture, you have to adapt yourself to manage with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon next to your plate. This set of utensils is called sujeo.
On a recent visit to South Korea, a local told me that it is believed that teaching children chopstick skills at a very young age makes them smarter. She said there is a correlation between chopsticks and brain development as using them is complex and moves more muscles than using a fork and knife. The common belief is that the activity stimulates the brain and helps children concentrate.
Eating with chopsticks can be difficult, especially with rice, but sticky rice might make it easier. Plain steamed rice is an essential ingredient in Korean food, from main dishes and soups, to dessert. In Korean culture, bap or rice is considered the best medicine and the main source of energy.
Interestingly enough, it is now understandable why one of the most popular Korean greeting phrases, especially in the countryside, translates into “have you had rice today?” If you answer by saying that you did, that means you are doing well.
Apart from the white rice, multi-grain rice is also common. It combines barley, sticky rice, brown rice and millet.
One of the most popular rice dishes in Korea is bibimbap. This colorful dish consists of rice topped with minced meat and assorted vegetables. It can be cooked differently depending on the region. A more theatrical presentation is to bring it to the table in a sizzling hot stone pot before you mix the ingredients together, adding the Korean chili paste gochujang.
Second to rice comes guksu or noodles as a main traditional ingredient in Korean cuisine. Noodles are considered traditional treats on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays and especially the 60th birthday, which is a major celebration in the lives of Koreans. Long noodles symbolize long and healthy life and marriage.
Some noodles are served hot, like janchi guksu (banquet noodles), in a broth made from anchovy or dried kelp (large seaweed), while others like naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles) are served cold. According to locals, this dish was introduced to South Korea by North Koreans who settled in the country after the Korean War. Noodles are added to beef broth and watery radish kimchi. Another variation is to add raw fish.
If you are into soups, you have to try pumpkin and mushroom soups with a Korean twist. The texture is somewhere between that of a soup and porridge, as rice or oats are the main component. The pumpkin soup leaves a sweet taste on your palate, while the mushroom soup is slightly spicy yet delicious and filling.
As rice is a main ingredient in the Korean kitchen, dessert is not excluded. Tteok or rice cakes are not only delicious, but they are also beautiful to the eye with their vibrant colors and floral shapes.
There is the pan-fried flower rice cake hwajeon; the steamed rice cake rolled in bean powder injeolmi; the festive rice cake balls gyeongdan and jeungpyeon the white fluffy yeast rice cakes.
After you finish eating, impress your Korean hosts by saying “jal meogeosseumnida!” and they will understand that you have “enjoyed your meal.”

  • Useful expressions:
  • Banchan: side dish
  • Ganjang: soy sauce
  • Deonjang: soybeans paste
  • Gochujang: Korean chili paste
  • Jeotgal: salted seafood
  • Jangajji: pickled vegetables
  • Bap: rice
  • Jeotgarak: chopsticks
  • Sutgarak: spoon
  • Chaesik ju-uija imnida: I’m vegetarian
  • Maewoyo: spicy
  • Gyesanseo juseyo: May I have the check, please?

Kimchi recipe

1. 1 large napa cabbage (about 5 to 6 lbs), or 2 small (about 3 lbs each)
2. 1 cup Korean coarse sea salt for making kimchi
3. 5 cups of water
4. 1 pound Korean radish
5. 1/4 Asian pear (optional)
6. 3 - 4 scallions
1. 1 tbl glutinous rice powder*, (*Mix it with 1/2 cup water, simmer over low heat until it thickens to a thin paste and cool.
2. 1/2 cup Korean red chili pepper flakes, gochugaru, (adjust to your taste)
3. 1/4 cup saeujeot (salted shrimp), finely minced
4. Raw shrimp (about 2 ounces), finely minced or ground
5. 3 tablespoons myulchiaekjeot (fish sauce),
6. 3 tbls minced garlic
7. 1 tsp grated ginger
8. 1 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
9. 1/2 cup water
10. 2 large bowls or pots (7 - 8 quarts)
11. a large colander
12. kitchen gloves
13. 3/4 - 1 gallon airtight container or jar
1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters by cutting the stem end in half only about 3-4 inches in and then slowly pulling apart to separate into two pieces by hand. Do the same for each half to make quarters. (Running the knife through all the way would unnecessarily cut off the cabbage leaves.)
2. In a large bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 5 cups of water. Thoroughly bathe each cabbage quarter in the salt water one at a time, shake off excess water back into the bowl, and then transfer to another bowl.
3. Using the other half cup of salt and starting from the outermost leaf, generously sprinkle salt over the thick white part of each leaf (similar to salting a piece of meat). Try to salt all the cabbage quarters with half cup salt, but you can use a little more if needed. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage quarters. Pour the remaining salt water from the first bowl over the cabbage. Set aside for about 6-8 hours, rotating the bottom ones to the top every 2-3 hours.
4. The cabbage should be ready to be washed when the white parts are easily bendable. Rinse thoroughly 3 times, especially between the white parts of the leaves. Drain well, cut side down.
5. Meanwhile, make the glutinous rice paste and cool. Prepare the other seasoning ingredients. Mix all the seasoning ingredients, including the rice paste and water, well. Set aside while preparing the other ingredients in order for the red pepper flakes to dissolve slightly and become pasty.
6. Cut the radish and optional pear into match sticks (use a mandoline if available). Cut scallions into 1-inch long pieces. Transfer to a large bowl and combine with the seasoning mix. Mix well by hand. Taste a little bit. It should be a little too salty to eat as is. Add salt, more salted shrimp or fish sauce, if necessary. If possible, let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to meld nicely.
7. Cut off the tough stem part from each cabbage quarter, leaving enough to hold the leaves together. Place one cabbage quarter in the bowl with the radish mix. Spread the radish mix over each leaf, one to two tablespoons for large leaves. (Divide the stuffing into 4 parts and use one part for each cabbage quarter.)
8. Fold the leaf part of the cabbage over toward the stem and nicely wrap with the outermost leaf before placing it, cut side up, in a jar or airtight container. Repeat with the remaining cabbage. Once all the cabbage is in the jar or airtight container, press down hard to remove air pockets. Rinse the bowl that contained the radish mix with 1/2 cup of water and pour over the kimchi.
9. Leave it out at room temperature for a full day or two, depending on how fast you want your kimchi to ripen. Then, store in the fridge. Although you can start eating it any time, kimchi needs about two weeks in the fridge to fully develop the flavors. It maintains great flavor and texture for several weeks.


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Planting the seeds: Dubai Vegan Days

Founder Ananda Shakespeare discusses the growing popularity of her pop-up vegan events. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019

Planting the seeds: Dubai Vegan Days

DUBAI: Dubai Vegan Days held its latest event — an Indonesian plant-based brunch — at the city’s Rove Healthcare City hotel on July 6. Zendy Marsam, an experienced vegan chef of Indonesian heritage, created the menu, which — on the main course platter, following the salad buffet appetizer — included her flavorsome signature vegan rendang, an excellent banana-blossom curry, spiced tempeh, an inviting Balinese satay, a baked Javanese corn cake, and a delicious serundeng (a mix of peanut and spiced coconut floss). The only real let-down was the yellow rice cone that formed the centerpiece of the platter — which was undercooked and clumpy.

The dessert platter held a sumptuous tropical fruit gelato (created by Vegan Artiserie) and a bubur ketan hitam (a black-rice pudding with passion fruit, mango and coconut-pandan sauce).

For those looking to work up an appetite ahead of the brunch, there was a free 30-minute neuropilates class included in the $27 price per head.

This was a fairly typical example of a Dubai Vegan Days event, according to founder Ananda Shakespeare, who launched the initiative around 18 months ago as a pop-up “just to bring the community together.” Many of the events since have taken place at Rove Healthcare City — its funky, rustic space is a great setting for a community event — but Shakespeare has also taken her project to other locations in the city, including a sunset event at Dubai Herbal & Treatment Center, as well as various restaurants (usually around the time they launch a vegan menu).

“It’s not really run to make money,” Shakespeare explained. “The philosophy behind it is more just talking about veganism and encouraging people to come along and try it.

“I thought I was the only vegan in Dubai,” she continued. “I didn’t realize there was this whole movement happening over here and it was becoming so popular. I joined a vegan meet-up and realized there were other vegans around, and now I’ve made loads of vegan friends. We’ll meet up for barbeques and pool parties. It’s great.”

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular globally, and the UAE, it seems, is no exception. The Indonesian brunch had a crowd of around 50 when we attended, in an 80-seater restaurant, and with two hours still to run by the time we left.

Ananda Shakespear. (Supplied) 

“None of it’s new,” said Shakespeare. “I’m 45 years old and I’ve never eaten meat, fish or eggs. My parents were vegetarian and vegan 50 years ago. So it’s not new to me, but there’s definitely a movement that makes it very of-the-moment right now, and that’s probably because of celebrities endorsing it. But we’ve known these things for ages: We know they’re cutting down rainforests just to raise cattle for the meat that we want to eat. We know about battery farms. We know about fish farming. It’s crazy. It’s not a sustainable way to live.”

There are, she believes, three main reasons (apart from celebrity endorsements) that people turn to veganism.

“It’s either for health, for the environment, or for animals,” she said. “I’m an environmental activist. I’ve started two environmental charities in the UK. So, if anything, I’m vegan from an environmental standpoint. I do think it’s good for your health to not consume dairy or meat or fish too. I believe fish are just in the dustbin of our world — the oceans. I think animal cruelty is probably the biggest reason that people turn vegan. That’s the power of films like ‘Forks Over Knives,’ that have really opened people’s eyes.”

She stressed, too, that Dubai Vegan Days isn’t just for vegans: “I don’t consider myself very militant about it. I really welcome non-vegans along. People who just want to try it. There’s room for everyone. It’s not nice to have a them-and-us mentality.”

She is aware, however, that just as veganism is growing in popularity globally, it is also attracting a lot of negative attention.

“There’s a lot of vegan hatred. You see it everywhere,” she said. “For years, I told people I was vegetarian, I didn’t say I was vegan because people see it as so extreme and they don’t understand it. I think maybe people feel like you’re judging them by what’s on your plate. The truth is, they know they’re eating an animal that’s been killed for them. And that’s hard to cope with, I think, so they’ll attack you and put you down. But if you break down most of the arguments, they’re not very logical.”