~ A journal entry by Chef Nam ~
There is an old saying in Danish “At rejse er at level”, which translates “To travel is to live”, by famous fairy tale author, Hans Christian Anderson. As a cook, I have always believed that travelling opens up new horizons to explore and experience different cultures, cuisines and landscapes. Despite living in a multicultural society like Singapore, there is still much to be seen.
One of the best discoveries when visiting new destinations and cultures is the food. It is my first time in South Korea. Their culture and cuisine is an eye opening experience for me. Prior to the trip, my knowledge on Korean food was limited to kimchi and Korean BBQ.
When it comes to preparing food, Koreans are fastidious in both visual appeal and taste profile in their food. The aesthetics of Korean food and its distinctive cultural properties are both vital and meaningful to Koreans. In short, what looks good tastes good.
There are four seasons in Korea and the best dishes are made from seasonal ingredients. Seasonal ingredients are considered healthy and the season brings out the best in the ingredient. Similarly, seasonal food is the most nutritious and highly sought after. My Korean hostess shared that there are 200 over types of Kimchi in both North and South Korea and only Korean red pepper, amongst hundreds of different kinds of red peppers, can be used to make kimchi.
Another unforgettable experience is trying the “Ganjang Gejang” – a traditional dish that is made by marinating fresh raw crabs in soy sauce. Apparently, this dish is one of the must-try dishes when in Korea.
Female crabs are much preferred and are usually marinade for a period of 24 hours in an earthenware. A marinade mixture of soy sauce, rice syrup, sesame oil, scallions, ginger, garlic, Kombu and red chilli pepper is boiled briefly and poured over the crabs. After an hour, the marinade is removed, boiled again and poured over the crabs. This process is repeated several times before the dish is chilled and kept marinated for at least 24 hours before consumption. This dish is best eaten with warm steamed rice, sesame seeds, and toasted seaweed paper.
As I stand on the streets, in a city that never sleeps, I hear people shouting “Pali Pali” (means quickly in Korean) – a favourite expression and a way of life in Seoul. I wrapped my scarf around my neck, to keep me warm on a cold winter night and wandered aimlessly into the hectic night in Myeongdong.