Issue 30

Bonding Over Korean Food

Korean food was designed for bringing together friends and family. I lived in Korea for two years as an English teacher and what I have noticed is that Koreans like to do things in groups. I once told my co-workers that I went on a trip by myself and some of my fellow Korean teachers almost fainted by how strange that sounded to them.

So, if you are planning to have a get together, consider having a Korean barbecue and watch your guests bond over delicious Asian-style cuisine. The best part of cooking Korean food is that it’s easy to put together and easy to get the ingredients. You can go to your local Asian market to get the more difficult items and to your local grocery store for the rest. I like to go to the Asian Market on 76th and Cass to get ingredients to complete the Korean dishes.

To start with appetizers, I suggest kimbap. Bap is the Korean word for rice. This is a popular street food as well. Kimbap is like a sushi roll. This is more or less a rice roll with meat and vegetables. To prepare this, you will use the sushi rice along with the rice vinegar. Then you will need nori (toasted seaweed). In the middle of this roll, you will have spam, fried eggs, cucumbers and sesame seeds. After that roll the kimbap just like you would for a sushi roll.

When I hung out with Korean doctors, my friends would slice up various fruits and have sweet rice cakes. Some of the Korean fruits can been found at Asian markets and some of the more popular fruits can be found at regular grocery stores. Korean pears, compared to regular pears, are round and are extra crunchy. Yellow melons taste like honeydew, but look like small watermelons.

Another common appetizer is dried cuttlefish and mayonnaise. Dried cuttlefish can be found at the Asian markets. My friends would simply heat this up on a frying pan and then cut the cuttlefish with scissors. Then for a dip, they would use mayonnaise.

The most popular of Korean dishes for a Friday night get together is samgyeopsar and galbi. A rough translation for samgyeopsar is three-layer bacon. Galbi is similar in concept, but is a beef barbecue equivalent.

To set yourself up for the samgyeopsar dinner, you will need slab bacon, sesame seed oil, sea salt, garlic, mint leaves, kimchi, bean sprouts and rice. These are the basic components for this kind of meal. When Koreans go to a restaurant for this, the tables are equipped with mini charcoal grills. The server will bring little dishes of rice, a mixture of sesame seed oil, sea salt and a dish with the mint leaves. Then they bring the three layer bacon and sliced garlic. They lay the strips of bacon on the grill and if you want, you can put the garlic on the grill as well. I like roasted garlic, so I put all the garlic on the side of the grill.

The servers come and flip the bacon over. Once the samgyeopsar has cooked sufficiently, traditionally, the head of the family or the company manager will cut the strips. Once that is done, everyone dishes up. In this setup, there are other elements that can be used according to tastes.

To eat this meal, simply get a mint leaf and put some rice on it. Take your piece of bacon, dip it in the oil and put it on the rice. Then put what you want on top of the pork. I usually top it with roasted garlic slices and some kimchi. With multiple toppings, you can mix and match.

Galbi is cooked with the same concept and adds more variety to the meal. To prepare galbi, you will need to marinate beef in a Korean-style barbecue paste. The ingredients you will need are soy sauce, water, honey, raw sugar, sesame oil, garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, green onions and toasted sesame seeds. You can simply go to Wikihow and search for kalbi marinade for instructions on how prepare the beef needed.

For these meals, Koreans like to drink beer and soju, their national drink. It is often suggested that soju was made for samgyeopsar. In this culture, it is often rude for someone to not pour a drink for their friends. Usually, the head of the table pours soju in shot glasses for their guests. Then the person next to the head will pour a shot for the leader. It’s said in in Korea that the person who pours himself a drink has bad friends.

Now, you may not have a charcoal grill embedded in your dining table. You can simply cook the bacon and beef in a large frying pan, cut up the meat and put it on a serving dish. Or if you want to be technical, grill the meat on your gas grill. Koreans love to have their food extra hot and fresh off the grill. Hence, in the restaurants, the grills are installed in the tables.

If your guests are willing to go on the spicy side, ddeokbokki is an excellent choice – just make sure you have some heartburn medication like Zantac (you can click here to see their range of solutions) in your cupboard, just in case. Composed of sliced rice cakes that look like penne, boiled eggs, some type of meat and seasoning, this dish is a spicy-sweet introduction to Korean street food. Street vendors sell this in cups with chopsticks. At restaurants this is served in large dishes meant for groups.

To prepare this, you will need to marinate the meat in spicy sauce. I like to use chicken for this dish because I think the sauce compliments the chicken. In order to make the marinade, you will need garlic, ginger, soy sauce, corn syrup, gochujang (spicy red paste) and green onions. Let the meat marinate in the sauce for an hour. While the meat is marinating, you can prepare the ddeok (sliced rice cake). To do that, you just put the ddeok into a bowl of cold water until they break apart.

Ddeokbokki is like a stir fry. So once your materials are ready to be cooked, you just put everything in your saucepan or large wok starting with ddeok. Then you throw in the meat and whatever else you want in the dish. Because this is a stir fry, the dish is flexible as to what you want to put in. Some vendors throw in some ramen. Other like to use spam and cut up hotdogs.

For a smaller gathering, you cannot go wrong with bibimbap. This is rice with vegetables. One of my Korean teachers told me this was a more difficult dish to prepare due to all the slicing, but if you have average slicing skills, this should be no problem.

Traditionally, this is made with stoneware rice bowls where the last part of the rice is cooked in the oven in a stone rice bowl. If you don’t have stone rice bowls, don’t worry – you can just make the rice in bulk and then put the vegetables over the rice.

While the rice is cooking, all you need to do is cook the marinated beef and slice up the vegetables. You will need thinly sliced beef. You can use the same marinade that you used for galbi and cook it in your wok or frying pan. Then, add the vegetables in this dish which are bean sprouts, sliced cucumbers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and spinach. Put the cooked beef and the sliced vegetables over rice and add some kimchi. Then it is topped with an egg sunny side up or a fried egg over easy, depending on your comfort level with eggs. This dish is served with gochujang (spicy red paste) which can be added by your guests according to their tastes and spice levels. With this dish, the guests can mix the rice with vegetables as they like. Koreans like to mix everything together.

If you do cook the rice in a stoneware bowl, there will be rice stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Once you have finished eating the main course, you can enjoy what is called burnt rice soup. To do this, you just mix hot water in with the rice that has been stuck to the bowl. Add any leftover vegetables and beef to complete. The hot water will loosen up the rice. This has been referred to as a Korean dessert.

Korean food offers many easy to make dishes that can impress your guests. They offer a way for you to introduce Asian cuisine and spicy food without venturing too far from the Western comfort zone. These dishes are easy to make and will instantly become a hit at your next get together. They offer a quick way to bond with your friends over food and drink.

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