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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How Saudi Arabia is leading Middle East’s fight against breast cancer

Updated 17 October 2019

How Saudi Arabia is leading Middle East’s fight against breast cancer

  • Advancements in medicine and technology are increasing rates of survival among patients
  • The Eastern Province accounts for the largest number of breast-cancer patients in Saudi Arabia

ABU DHABI: Cancer of the breast remains the most common form of the disease among women despite major advances in treatment coupled with improved screening and awareness campaigns. 

Rates of the disease are increasing in nearly every region globally as aging populations and factors such as obesity take their toll.

In 2018, more than 2 million new cases were reported worldwide of what is one of the biggest and most preventable killers of women.

Dr. Samer Abushullaih, an oncologist and physician manager at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare in Dhahran, said that despite rising detection rates and the introduction of cutting-edge technology, health experts cannot afford to be complacent.

“In the past 20 years we have seen major advances in the survival of breast cancer patients around the world,” he told Arab News.

“It has been an amazing journey of heightened awareness, technological advances and changes in culture. Unfortunately, we are a long way away from defeating the disease.”

The Middle East is forecast to experience the fastest increase in cancer rates globally over the next two decades. By 2030, prevalence of breast cancer is expected to be double what it was in 2012, according to experts at the War on Cancer Middle East.

Regionally, Lebanon has the highest incidence among Arab countries, followed by Bahrain and Morocco. In the UAE, cancer is the third-biggest cause of death, with breast cancer being the most prevalent type.

As the world marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, experts say that Saudi Arabia is leading the fight against the disease regionally. Even so, cancer incidence rose in the Kingdom by 49 percent between 2008 and 2017, and breast cancer remains the most common form of the illness among women.


2.1 MILLION - women diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide each year.

627,000 - An estimated 627,000 women died of breast cancer in 2018. (WHO)

50 - Women over 50 years old affected most, but younger women also at risk.

Abushullaih said that the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has the largest number of breast cancer patients in the country .

“The use of 3D mammography and advanced MRI images have improved early detection,” he said, adding that treatment of breast cancer has evolved significantly in the past few years.

“Surgery moved from the traditional mastectomy and lymph node dissection to more cosmetically friendly procedures such as lumpectomies and sentinel lymph node biopsy,” he said.

“Also, the new techniques of oncoplastic surgeries, such as skin sparing and nipple sparing mastectomies, spare a lot of women the physical and emotional agony of losing their breasts.”

According to Abushullaih, advancements in molecular profiling have improved the understanding of breast cancer. Physicians can tell who needs chemotherapy, sparing those who do not the dreaded side effects.

Drug development has also evolved in the field of targeted therapy. Medicines such Herceptin, suitable for women with a particularly fast-growing form of the disease, cut the risk of cancer returning by up to half. Tamoxifen, designed as a contraceptive, is now used to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk.

“These are drugs that target the cancer cells and spare the normal cells,” said Abushullaih.

He said that new medicines, targeted therapies such as radiotherapy, and advances in surgery, along with screening, have expanded the resources available to beat breast cancer.

“On the horizon, research and advances in immunotherapy, where the body’s immune system works with medication to fight the disease, are promising to advance survival and cure rates,” said Abushullaih.

When it comes to Saudi Arabia, Abushullaih said: “The Kingdom is in the lead in the fight against cancer and other diseases, both in the GCC and the Middle East.”

Early detection rates for breast cancer are relatively low in the Gulf. (Shutterstock) 

However, he said that heightened awareness will help in early detection of the disease, ensuring that women carry out regular self-examination and get screened early.

“I think our early detection rate is still very low compared with the West. More than 50 percent of all breast cancer cases in the Kingdom are still detected after it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body,” said Abushullaih.

One of the biggest obstacles facing women is being proactive in requesting a mammography, even when it is not offered, he said.

“Treating breast cancer at an early stage is much easier. Saudi Arabia and many of the countries in the Middle East fare the same way with regard to screening. However, in the Kingdom it is slowly improving.”

Another obstacle in patient care is the cost of therapy, said Abushullaih. “Here, the Kingdom fares better than most, if not all, the countries in the region as the government invested heavily early on in providing for cancer patients,” he said.

Dr. Nazura Siddiqi, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at the UAE’s Bareen International Hospital, said the first step to a diagnosis is self-examination.

“Women should check for lumps and change in size or other signs linked to breast cancer,” she said.

“The other forms include visiting a health care facility and getting clinical breast examination by a physician, ultrasound, MRI or mammogram.”

Siddiqi quoted research by the American Cancer Society that showed almost one in eight women suffers from breast cancer.

“In fact, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International’s statistics, 12 percent of all new cancer cases and 25 percent of all cancers in women could be linked to breast cancer,” she said.

The risk doubles for women who have one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, the risk is five times higher than average.

“There is also a group of women who don’t have family history, yet can develop breast cancer,” Siddiqi said. “Therefore, it is highly recommended to undergo regular screening in order to detect the condition in its early stages.”

Hormonal factors such as early menarche, late menopause or late childbirth are also potential risk factors, said Siddiqi.

Use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy are also believed to raise breast cancer risks.

Lifestyle is another issue, said Siddiqi. “Research shows that factors that contribute to breast cancer and resulting mortality include alcohol use, obesity and physical inactivity,” she said.

According to the Saudi Cancer Registry of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, breast cancer has a prevalence rate of 21.8 percent in the Kingdom.

Earlier this year, Tareef Yousef Alaama, of the Saudi Ministry of Health, told Arab News that a string of cancer-prevention measures were planned in the Kingdom.

These included the roll-out of advanced screening programs, increased palliative care and greater public awareness about risk factors associated with the illness.