The flux of modern Korean cuisine
The recent emergence of Korean cuisine cultivates from cooking shows and restaurants that have turned Korean cooks into full-blown celebrities. Overseas young chefs and Korean native chefs are starting to open their own concept restaurants that are appearing daily here in Korea. These chefs emphasize proper sourcing, authenticity, creativity, and taste of the ingredients rather than just the basics. In addition, the chefs have to create a cuisine that the native Korean diners will enjoy.
Korea's unique terrain of sea and mountains allows an immense variety of ingredients. Nowadays, Korean traditional cooking techniques such as marinating and fermenting merge with western cooking techniques to create a diverse range of cuisines.
The new restaurants and cafes are cosmopolitan yet local. Young Koreans are building organic farms outside of the city such as in the Jeolla-do and Bundang areas around Seoul. Rooftop gardens are rising in popularity because diners want to enjoy the freshest ingredients available.
In addition, there is a trend where diners drive hours to rediscover traditional rustic Korean cuisine. Influential food bloggers are gaining celebrity status as they champion new eateries and demote poor ones. The Korean culinary scene is now in a flux where food and taste is the focus.
Ginseng is known in Korean folklore as a panacea. This curative root is revered and treasured for its healing properties. In Korea, food and medicine are intertwined so this root is often used in tonics, teas, alcohols and food.
The root is believed to reduce fatigue, increase stamina, improve mental awareness and detoxify the body. Recent scientific evidence shows that ginseng has positive effects on the circulatory system, metabolism, the nervous system and digestive system. It has also shown to have a defensive effect on radiation.
The root adds a distinct, earthy flavour to the foods and drinks it is used in. Koreans prefer ginseng that is harvested after six years. The most highly sought after ginseng roots are grown on mountains. Red ginseng is one of the most common of the roots in Korea. This root is processed through a special steam processing which extracts the medicinal benefits and preserves them for a longer time.
Koreans believe that food is medicine so this miraculous root is used in famous foods like a chicken and ginseng soup called Samgyetang. Ginseng is also used to make fortified alcohols, tonics, candies and teas.
Food that purifies body and mind
Korean Buddhist Temple cuisine is mindful food traditional eaten by monks. The monks recognize the effort that goes into the creation of everything. They make an effort not to waste even an individual grain of rice. The main precept behind temple cuisine is compassion for all beings. The food one eats should not cause harm to any being nor should it be wasteful.
Temple cuisine is a simple diet that is based on vegetables and excludes animal products, including fish. The focus is on foods that are believed to give energy and mindfulness. Temple cuisine avoids foods that are thought to be profane such as the five pungent vegetables, ‘O-shin-chae.’ O-shin-chae vegetables are onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks. However, the use of chilies is allowed and it is used to give accent to dishes.
Temple cuisine focuses on fresh, preserved and fermented foods. Buddhist kimchis and fermented pastes are fermented without using any animal products or seafood and yet they are nutritious. The process for cooking this way is used in order to keep the food as natural as possibly while fortifying it to make it healthier. Many of the fresh vegetables and roots are gathered from the mountains.
Korean temple cuisine is not considered just monks’ food anymore. It is easy to find temple cuisine restaurants throughout the country. During a "Temple Stay Experiences" people can experience how to make their mind serene and calm. Through the food people believe they can purify their mind and body.
Sophisticated Court cooking
Korean Royal Court Cuisine refers to dishes meant only for the royal members of Korea. This elite culinary strand has a 5000-year history. The height of Royal Court Cuisine was during the Chosun dynasty, between 1392 and 1910. Royal Court dishes are distinguished by the use of top quality ingredients, as well as the chef's painstaking skill and labor to create elaborate creations. The flavors of Royal Court dishes are subtle, while avoiding pungent or overpowering ingredients.
The dishes are seasonal and made from ingredients that are at the apex of quality. The tableware is also seasonal. From late fall to early spring Korean porcelain was used to keep dishes warm until the end of a meal. From spring to fall brassware was used. Historically, a meal setting with all side dishes and main dishes would be arranged on a single table for one individual. By the middle of the 20th century, diners would share meals.
Royal Court table settings would also change depending on the type of meal. A bansang or rice table setting utilizes rice, soup, kimchi and a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Tagwasan, a tea table setting, includes tea and rice cakes. The Juansang is an alcohol table setting that has flasks of traditional alcohol with a colourful array of savoury pancakes. Myeonsan, a noodle table setting has noodles, pancakes and kimchi. The representative dishes of this era are the Sinseollo: a traditional hot pot dish; and Guljeolpan: a nine-sectioned crepe dish topped with vegetables.
Since 1910, there has not been a royal family in Korea, but Koreans and visitors like to enjoy the opulent style of this cuisine. The sublime splendour and delicate flavours make it one of the most elegant cuisines in the world.
Beef, barbecue and butchery
A barbecue table with a grill is built into the centre of the table to hold coals, and there is an exhaust system to extract the smoke. Korean barbecue has evolved over time due to the change in Korea’s food culture. In the past, Korea was primarily an agrarian society so eating meat was nearly impossible for commoners. During Korea’s Buddhist period, meat was forbidden.
It was only after Mongolian invasions that Koreans learned to butcher and cook animal meat. Koreans prefer meat that is not gamey. If food is too greasy, it should be balanced by fresh vegetables and/or pickled kimchi. Everything should be freshly cooked and hot. Koreans tend to eat with others rather than alone. Korean barbecue is one of the meals eaten socially.
Over time, Koreans have learned different methods of butchering meat. With cattle meat, Koreans use over 100 cuts and every part of the cow is used - even the intestines and bones. The cuts along the rib bones are most prized and special methods of cutting around the bone and marinating them have been established. The prized cut of barbecue is marinated beef rib, or Yang Yeongalbi.