In many aspects Korean cuisine is a combination of Japanese and Chinese techniques in preparing food. If compared to Japanese cuisine, it relies less on fish and seafood; if compared to Chinese, it relies less on oil.
The staple food of course is rice (in Korean: bap). Rice noodles (in Korean: chapche) and bean curd (in Korean: duboo) are common starch substitutes or additions.
Korean foods tend to be spicier than either Japanese or Chinese dishes. The hotness comes chiefly from chili. Other common spices are sesame and ginger.
Most peculiar about Korean cuisine, however, is its way of pickling instead of cooking vegetables. Pickled vegetables in Korean is kimchi, a term anyone visiting Korean restaurants will learn fast. Literally kimchi is just the word for vegetables; but pickling is so predominant that even for the Koreans, kimchi also means pickled vegetables and they only specify the preparation if it is other than pickled.
Koreans are likely to eat pickled vegetables every day of the year, commonly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the cold Korean winter kimchi can last for many months. However, in the tropical Thai climate kimchi should be and is prepared only several days before consumption. The pickling process takes about 12 to 14 hours. Almost all available vegetables can be pickled but the most common in Korea are cabbage, turnip, and cucumber. The seasoning is chili, garlic, onion, ginger, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and salt.
During the fermenting process the vegetables loose much of their natural flavor and instead adopt the flavor of the seasoning. The difference in texture, however, is enhanced.
Even as kimchi is most peculiar to Korean cuisine, it’s rather the Korean habit of preparing meat as barbecue (in Korean: bulgogi) that has appealed to a large number of gourmets around the world.
As the Koreans use chopsticks meats are chopped into bite size before being cooked. And like in Chinese dining, dishes (except rice) are served family style with food placed in the middle of the table where every diner picks a piece of this or that.
The Koreans pay particular attention to the arrangement of the food on the plates and the dishes on the table, a similarity to first-class Thai cuisine. Foods are supposed to be placed neatly in concentric circles or parallel linear columns and never in a disorderly fashion. But that’s not enough. Also the colors of the foods should alternate in a regular manner.
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