Korean Cooking For the Soul

Every Thursday, a group of friends and I get together to do something, whether its trying a new restaurant together in town, exploring a new area, or going to spouse events on post.  This past Thursday, one of the ladies organized a private cooking class for us to attend in her home, and it might easily be my favorite thing we have done as a group so far (you have definitely set the bar high, Chie!!!!) .  If you couldn’t tell from my previous post, I’m pretty much in love with Korean Cuisine, so getting the opportunity to learn how to make some of the dishes was definitely a really awesome experience.  A professional chef came, along with a translator, and 3 assistants that helped us along the way.  The translator is actually a director of a center in town that aims to bridge the gap between the local community and the growing foreigner population.  It was really neat to get to hear about the center and it was awesome how they helped coordinate the cooking class for us.

The menu for our cooking class included Korean Pancakes, Japchae, and Kimchi.  What was really neat is before we even started we got a little history lesson on Korean cooking and where or why the dishes we were about to prepare are significant to Korean Culture.  Those who know me, know I LOVE to cook, and am an okay baker.  I’m only an okay baker because you have to measure things and can’t really ad lib so to speak, and I love just throwing ingredients together and tasting as I go, only using recipes as a loose guide to getting to the end result.  Korean cooking philosophy is very similar.   We received recipes, but there are zero measurements and we often asked how much, which to my amusement we got very vague answers.   Koreans believe in putting love in your food, and a sentiments they call “Sonmat” which translates to hand taste:  You will see in the pictures, hands were used to mix and taste the food all throughout class yesterday.  The chef who taught yesterday was a beautiful woman, but you can definitely tell that her profession has been hard on her hands, but she seemed to truly love what she was doing and it was really neat to see the passion she put into creating her dishes.

  • Korean Pancakes:  unlike what we have in the states, pancakes here are not sweet so to speak nor a breakfast food, but rather a savory side or appetizer with tons of veggies and sometimes a protein ( We prepared ours with squid).  It was explained to us that Korean pancakes are popular and normally fried because as they are frying, it sounds like the rain, and there is a long rainy season here in Korea, so during those rainy seasons, Koreans like to prepare pancakes to mirror the sound of nature around then.

  • Japchae:  Japchae is considered one of the most popular dishes in Korea, originating from the Joseon dynasty, which had 22 Kings serve during their rein.  If it’s good enough for a King, its definitely good enough for me!  ha.  The dish has tons of veggies, glass noodles, and usually a protein (we used pork).   It was seasoned to taste with some sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and all hand mixed together, because, sonmat.  I foresee a lot of Japchae being made in the Palko household for years to come!
  • Kimchi:  So I have to say I was most excited to learn about how to make kimchi.  Kimchi is a very popular side dish here and involves a lot of patience in making it.  There are two types, the quick version, which we did yesterday, and the winter version, which you get in most restaurants, but it takes quite some time to make because the cabbage has to sit in a cool area in salt to soften.  Because the winters are so cold and vegetables are not able to grow, kimchi was the Korean’s solution to being able to still eat vegetables in the winter.  Historically, they would place kimchi in Kimchi pots and dig holes in the ground so that the Kimchi could ferment.  Now, because of technology, there are kimchi refrigerators and kimchi pots are more decorative then useful in urban areas, but still used in the rural areas.  Our cabbage sat for about two hours in salt before we combined all the ingredients, and though the cabbage wasn’t as soft as what you get in the restaurants, it was still delicious!   Again, all ingredients were hand mixed and I’m already eyeing bigger bowls and strainers to be able to make my first batch of kimchi at home!
    cabbage sitting in salt
    red pepper seasoning for the kimchi!
    Kimchi has anchovy sauce in it.

    Sonmat in action: putting all the love in the Kimchi!

The class was such a hit for everyone involved that we have plans to do it every other month, so I’m super excited for December to get here so I can learn more dishes to prepare at home.  I sent Zach to work with the leftovers today for lunch and from what I heard it was a big hit.

Other fun thing I have learned about Korean Culture is that when you are out eating with friends, it is custom to have someone else pour your drink for you.  Zach has had a few opportunities to attend dinners and events with his Korean counterparts, and its been fun learning all the different customs from these encounters.

That’s all the fun updates I have for this week.  Next week we are going to a ball and finally heading south to Busan for a 3 day weekend, so more to come on our first experience on the speed rail and our adventures in the south of the peninsula!


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