|The food of Korea is known for hearty, flavorful dishes like kimchee and kalbi (barbecued short ribs), while Japanese cuisine has given us favorites like sushi, teriyaki and tempura. This month we continue our study of Asian cuisine by taking a closer look at the food of Korea and Japan complete with ingredients, traditions and a few recipes. For all your Asian meals, remember Mrs. Lin' Kitchen is a great source for equipment, ideas and inspiration.
A Korean table is generally very well balanced – it includes dishes that are high in fiber and protein, low in fat and revolves around staples including rice, vegetables and tofu (called dubu), meat and seafood. Influenced by other Asian cuisines such as Chinese and Japanese, Korean food gets its distinct spicy tastes from various combinations of sesame oil, soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, ginger, ground red chili peppers and garlic, which is used quite frequently. In fact, Korea wins over Italy as the largest consumer of garlic.
Korean meals are also known for being served alongside a large variety of side dishes. Known as banchan, these side dishes include a range of items from pickled vegetables to preserved fish to kimchee, Korea' most famous condiment. Commonly made with cabbage that has been pickled with ground chili peppers, salt and garlic, kimchee can be made with a variety of other ingredients – such as cucumber, radish, eggplant, fish, squid and clams. Traditionally, the number of banchan served with your meal was a reflection of your status in society. Commoners had 3 to 5 side dishes while the wealthy were served up to 12 side dishes with their meals. Typical banchan includes Korean pancakes, kimchee, seasoned fish cakes, pickled radishes, seasoned potatoes, seaweed, cucumbers and spinach.
In the north, winters are harsh and cold while in the south, the climate is warm and tropical. Only 20% of the land is arable, with half of that devoted to cultivating rice. Koreans eat medium grain rice, which is also common in Japan, and often add in soybeans or barley for flavor and nutrition. Typically, Northern Koreans consume a lot of pork, while Southerners prefer beef. All types of fish – both fresh and preserved are a main source of protein here.
One of the most popular meals is Korean BBQ, where meats are cooked over a grill at the center of a table. Popular Korean fare includes bulgogi, thinly sliced beef that has been marinated in soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, sugar and chili pepper and then cooked at your table and kalbi, marinated short ribs that are cooked in the same fashion. Served with rice and banchan, these dishes are eaten with gochujang, a flavorful sauce made from fermented soybeans and red peppers and eaten with lettuce and slices of garlic.
Here is a recipe for bulgogi, one of the most famous dishes in Korea:
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp sugar
1 bunch green onions, coarsely chopped
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp rice wine
5 tbsp sesame oil
2 lbs. Beef tenderloin or rib eye, sliced thin
Mix all ingredients together, except beef. Add the beef and marinate for at least 1 hour. Heat cooking oil in large frying pan, and cook beef for about 1 minute per side. Traditionally, this dish is served with rice, lettuce, garlic and other Korean condiments.
Hearty dishes such as soups and stews are also popular Korean dishes, including doenjang jigae, a hearty soybean paste based soup with meat, vegetables, tofu or seafood and seolleongtang, a rich, milky white soup made from ox bones that has been simmered for hours and seasoned with salt. Noodle dishes are also popular, such as naengmyeon, or buckwheat noodles served in icy broth, and japchae, cellophane noodles that are stir-fried with garlic, vegetables and meat. One of Koreans’ most favored noodle dishes is jajangmyun, a Chinese dish of noodles covered with a sauce of black bean with vegetables, meat or seafood.
With their meals, Koreans drink soju, a vodka-like rice liquor that is known for its high potency as well as a Majuang wine which is commonly made with a blend of Korean and other grapes. Koreans also consume tea which is sometimes brewed with tea leaves, but more commonly with roasted corn, barley or ginseng.
Japan consists of four large islands: Hokkaiko, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu as well as hundreds of smaller islands. Much of its mountainous, volcanic terrain isn’t arable, with its little farmable land dedicated mostly to cultivating rice, Japan' number one staple. Being surrounded by water, much of the Japanese diet is from the sea: fish, shellfish, octopus, squid, lobsters, shrimp and seaweed. Beef, chicken and vegetables are also part of everyday Japanese meals.
In Japan, dishes are commonly flavored with shoyu (soy sauce), miso (a salty paste made from fermented soybeans), sake (Japanese rice wine), mirin (sweet rice wine), dashi (soup stock made from fish, kelp or mushrooms) and sesame seeds. Sushi lovers will also recognize wasabi, the spicy horseradish-like condiment that is served with fish. For more on sushi, please see our November 2005 and June 2001 newsletters, located in our Newsletter Archives.
Almost all Japanese meals are served with rice, Japan' most important crop. Gohan, or cooked rice, is the short-grain variety – grains are fluffy and sticky when steamed. (For a closer look at rice, please see our newsletter from August 2005) Rice is also used for a variety of popular items in Japan – such as mochi, or Japanese rice cakes, sake, senbei (rice crackers) rice vinegar (which is used to flavor sushi rice) and rice flour, which is used for Japanese sweets such as daifuku (red bean-filled treats) and dango (Japanese doughnuts).
In addition to rice, noodles are a popular staple in Japan. Soba are thin, brown noodles made from buckwheat flour, while udon are thick, white noodles made from wheat. Both are served with meat and vegetables in a broth often flavored with shoyu. Also popular is ramen, which are traditionally fresh egg noodles similar to Chinese lo mein. Japanese ramen is commonly served with a meat, soy sauce or fish based stock, and topped with a variety of fixings including egg, bamboo shoots, pork and seaweed.
Everyday Japanese meals usually include soup, rice and side dishes, which are known as okazu. Ichiju-sansaii (“one soup, three side dishes”) is one of the most common Japanese meals, and includes soup and three side dishes that have been preparing with different techniques. One of the dishes is usually sashimi (raw fish), one is grilled (such as teriyaki) one is simmered – though dishes that have been steamed, deep-fried or vinegared may appear, too.
Other popular ways of Japanese cooking include nabemono - “one-pot” cooking such as sukiyaki or shabu-shabu, agemono- which are deep-fried dishes such as tonkatsu or tempura, donburi - which is a bowl of hot rice covered with savory toppings, and yakimono – grilled or pan-fried fare like teriyaki or yakisoba.
Here is a recipe for beef sukiyaki, a popular Japanese dish (adapted from about.com)
-1 pound thinly sliced beef
-A handful of shirataki noodles (made from yam cakes) or cellophane noodles
-7-8 shiitake mushrooms
-1 package enoki mushrooms
-1 medium size leek
-1 Chinese cabbage
-1 package tofu
For sukiyaki sauce:
3 tbsp - soy sauce
3 tbsp - sake (Japanese rice wine)
3 tbsp - sugar
1 cup - dashi (Japanese soup stock)
·For dipping: 4 eggs
Cut all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Arrange all ingredients on a large plate and place the plate at the table. Mix soy sauce, sake, sugar, and soup stock to make sukiyaki sauce. Set on a hot plate or gas grill at the table
After this point, everything is done at the table as you eat. Heat a little oil in a shallow skillet (can be a fry pan or a hot plate) at the table. Fry beef slices, then add sukiyaki sauce. Add other ingredients when the sauce starts to boil. Simmer until all ingredients are softened. Dip the cooked sukiyaki into the raw, beaten eggs and begin to eat. As the liquid boils away, add more sukiyaki sauce. Serve with steamed rice.
Tea usually follows each meal, and the Japanese most commonly serve green or teas. There are many varieties of green teas served in Japan, including sencha, an early harvested green tea, hojicha, which is made with roasted green tea leaves and genmaicha, which is a blend of green tea and popped rice. Sake is one of Japan' most popular alcoholic beverages, as is Japanese beer and plum wine.
Whether your taste buds favor spicy Korean flavors or fresh Japanese tastes, both Korean and Japanese cuisine are not to be missed. For those who’d like to prepare these tasty dishes at home, be sure to check out the pages of Mrs. Lin' Kitchen for all your Asian meal needs.
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