Korean food

Nonsan strawberry festival (논산딸기축제), South Korea

Strawberry season is a thing in Korea and to my delight I was able to witness and partake in it. From December to June, there aren’t just strawberry lattes and strawberry cakes and strawberry bingsoos (that Korean shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings) in pretty much every coffee shop, but there’s a festival in April dedicated to the fruit as well. With my friend, we went on a little out-of-Seoul adventure, caught a KTX train, and made our way to Nonsan, a city in South Chungcheong Province, about 150km south of the capital, and home to a variety of strawberry farms. (more…)

Samgyetang, the Korean chicken soup that warms you up from inside

Sweat dripping down smiling faces, the old and the young standing side by side, chatting. One woman flips her hair, bobs her head back and closes her eyes – an expression of deep satisfaction spreads over her face. The noise level is high, but the happiness is greater – if only for a short while. People have gathered, as if at a train station, inside a bank, any random bank. The air conditioner is blowing, the cool air tickles the woman’s face, she lets out a sigh.

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A conversation with co-owner and chef Myung Keun Lee at Jalasan, Valencia

#10 in the series – challenges & innovations for Korean restaurants abroad

“In Valencia, there are many people who eat a lot of rice, onions, and so on. That’s why it’s easier for them to like Korean food.”

When you start interviewing individuals with the same job description but in different settings, you will evidently come across a lot of similarities: that introducing Korean food to another culture comes with many challenges, but also many rewards. That the Korean settlers’ taste changes with more time spent in their new home country, whether or not reflected in the food cooked at their restaurant. But you come to discover many unique stories as well. It wasn’t any different when we met the lovely couple behind Jalasan, a Korean restaurant in the sprawling city of Valencia, which is known for its paellas.

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A conversation with sisters Byung-Hi and Byung-Soon Lim at Arirang, Stockholm

#10 in the series – challenges & innovations for Korean restaurants abroad

“We’re not interested in carrying the Korean flag, but it’s important for us to give people good, tasty food in a nice, friendly atmosphere with traditional family recipes.”

On my recent trip to Sweden I had the pleasure of chatting with sisters Byung-Hi (the manager) and Byung-Soon (the chef) Lim at Korean restaurant Arirang in Stockholm. Family-owned since the restaurant’s establishment in 1975, it was in fact the first Korean restaurant to open in the whole of Scandinavia. In a very modest way, however, they point out that they didn’t really think of themselves as a restaurant at that time.

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A conversation with manager Rang Lee at Soban, Krefeld

#9 in the series – challenges & innovations for Korean restaurants abroad

“Authenticity does not exist.”

Off the beaten track, on the side road of a pedestrian shopping street, in a city of a little over 200,000 called Krefeld, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the West of Germany, you will find a Korean restaurant called Soban (소반), which prepares the most beautiful and delicious traditional royal Korean food. You would not expect to find it there and you might easily overlook it if you are unfamiliar with Korean food, but it is there, and the city all the better for it.

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A conversation with manager Park at Gogi Matcha, Düsseldorf

#8 in the series – challenges & innovations for Korean restaurants abroad

“Koreans, no matter which country they visit, they want to eat Korean food.”

Last month I sat down with manager Park at the barbecue-focused Korean restaurant Gogi Matcha (고기 마차) in Düsseldorf to talk about authenticity and customer expectations.

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A table bent with the weight of food – Korean side dish culture

side-dishes-koreaAjumma, you didn’t need to prepare this much, you’ll break the table’s legs!” is a common expression one might overhear at restaurants or (minus the ajumma) at young couples’ housewarming parties when the chef has prepared so many side dishes that the table may break with the weight of food. Meant as a compliment and a sign of appreciation, ajummas will usually shrug it off with a smile as if it were nothing. Feasts of this kind are not rare in Korea although the amount of side dishes will vary according to price and specialization (in restaurants) or occasion (at home). (more…)

Traditional Korean food in a non-traditional setting: Soban in Krefeld, Germany

When my partner and I googled for a Korean restaurant in the vicinity of where we were staying in the new year, we were surprised to find one in Krefeld, a city with a little over 200,000 inhabitants in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Although only a train ride away from the larger city Düsseldorf, which boasts an 11,000-strong Japanese community and a smaller Korean one, the journey nonetheless takes almost an hour, making it less attractive for Koreans to venture out. The focus of this one-year old restaurant Soban on serving Korean cuisine to a primarily local clientele is certainly reflected in the kinds of foods offered there. (more…)

Japchae at Hamgipak

japchae-at-hamgipak

If you rarely (or never) venture to Fulham, you should make this your go-to destination only for the japchae (vegetables stir-fried with translucent noodles) at Hamgipak, which owner and chef Soon Joo Bok has lovingly prepared since the start of this millennium, previously in her former location in New Malden. Her philosophy is healthy food, with as little salt or sugar as possible, which comes to the fore in dishes such as galbitang (beef short rib soup) or maeuntang (spicy fish soup). She nails it with the japchae sauce, which is light yet intense in flavours and gets you addicted right away. At least that is what happened to me one dreary winter’s night – and now just thinking about it makes me drool and want to scratch my dinner plans. Maybe today is meant to be japchae day… (more…)