Ways to savor Korean kimchi

Ways to savor Korean kimchi

Aylin Öney TAN - aylin.tan@hdn.com.tr
Ways to savor Korean kimchi Now that I learned kimchi is good for losing weight, I cannot wait for the forthcoming week celebrating Korean culture. I’m desperately crying out for kimchi, and some kimchis are so hot that they can bring tears to your eyes.

I’ve had my heart set on Korean cuisine since I tasted my first kimchi in a restaurant named Arirang in İzmir. Later in life, I discovered many things related to Korea would be named Arirang, and there are almost a thousand ways to savor kimchi.

At the two distant ends of the Asian continent, Korea and Turkey strangely share many things in common. The Silk Road is one connection to start with, a long trade trail crossing many countries in Asia. It is said to start from Gyeongju, a coastal city in the far southeastern part of Korea. There might be a long way between Gyeongju and Istanbul, but it is sure that both cities embrace the sea and good food.

Korean and Turkish cuisines might be worlds apart, but when it comes to certain dishes, taste palates can be amazingly similar. Both cultures have a fondness for pickles. We all love our “turşu” on the table, to accompany meatballs/köfte or bean stew/kuru fasulye, while nobody in Korea would consider a table complete without a bowl of kimchi. Kimchi, the word-famous cabbage-based pickle, is an addiction, albeit a good one.

Made with basically cabbage and radish with an addition of spring onions and cucumbers, usually with dried seafood or fish sauce, and almost always with lots of hot peppers, ginger and garlic, kimchi variations are endless. For winter, it is made in fall and fermented special earthen jars made from silica-rich clay. For summer, you can create an almost instant kimchi made from fresh seasonal vegetables. Every family seems to have a recipe handed down from mother to daughter. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine kimchi without hot red pepper, but it was not until the 18th century that it became a main ingredient in the now-ubiquitous red-colored preserved cabbages. Similarly, Turkish cuisine was not dyed red before tomatoes and peppers – two crops of New World origin – became abundant in Anatolia.

Another shared culture is the love for anything wrapped or stuffed. A couple of years ago when I started my dumpling research across Asia, I was amazed by the similarities of Turkish “mantı” and Korean “mandu.” They share a common past apparently, as the name indicates, and the variations of mandu in Korean cuisine are numerous: there is steamed, boiled or pan-fried mandu with a variety of fillings, including of course kimchi. The love of wrapping or stuffing things is not confined to wheaten dumplings. Any kind of leaf can be wrapped into a delicacy in Korea. Actually, kimchi is often made by wrapping or stuffing the cabbage leaves with flavorful spicy and savory ingredients, but wrapping leaves is one of the best-loved and most enjoyed practices in Korean food culture. Wrapping raw vegetable slices or leaves is an eating method called “ssam,” simply meaning wrap. Basic ssam is made by placing a wide piece of raw leafy green vegetable like lettuce on palm and placing in it some cooked rice and/or meat, with a dash of special sauce called ssamjang and folding it into a small parcel. Several delicious mouthfuls of wrapped ssam follow one another with a wide selection of leaves and fillings. Like our unconditional love for “dolma” and “sarma” dishes, no Korean can ever say no to a “ssam” feast.

A perfect way to end such a feast is with “omija,” a spicy red sherbet made with cinnamon, surprisingly similar, or better to say, almost identical with Turkish “lohusa şerbeti.” The similarity is striking; it seems there is much more to explore to find about the shared tastes of the two sister cuisines set apart by a big continent and a long, long trail of the silk route.

Recipe of the Week: A simple of and fresh spinach kimchi (shigúmch’i kimch’i) will be my suggestion for an instant taste of Korean cuisine. This recipe is from my only kimchi book by Florence & Helen C. Lee which features several recipes as well as all the information on the history and tradition of kimchi.
Wash and pat dry a big heaping bowl of fresh spinach leaves. You do not need to separate the leaves – actually, it is better to leave the stems attached to the root. Sprinkle generously with sea-salt and let it stand in a colander until softened. Cut a handful of spring onions diagonally to finger-sized pieces. Chop a few garlic cloves and about a tablespoon of fresh ginger. Mix a tablespoon of hot red pepper powder with a little lukewarm water to make a paste. Drain the excess salt from the spinach and mix thoroughly with green onions, garlic, ginger and paprika paste. You can also add fresh red pepper cut into thread-like match-stick sizes and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. You can adjust the amounts according to your taste. Enjoy as a side dish, or like a salad.

Event of the Week: Unfortunately for many over a certain age, Korea is associated in minds with the Korean War. In my childhood, I remember many families had a relative, or at least a person they knew, who went to Korea as a soldier. Now Korea is back in Istanbul for peace and to celebrate culture, hopefully erasing any thoughts of war in people’s minds. This is not that easy, with our war-minded government having other thoughts related to Syria.

Follow the colorful, peaceful and tasteful events of Korean culture from http://www.istanbul-gyeongju.com/en/.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Tasty menus from Korean cuisine will be offered at Sahan Restaurant in Ataşehir between Sept. 4 and 15 (Sahan, Barbaros Mah., Kardelen Sok. No. 18). Famous chef Jung Wook Woo will be in charge of the Korean cooking team and there will be fish, meat, vegetarian and  special Korean menus, with a wide range of Korean sweet delights, served between 12 and 2 p.m. and 5:30 and 9 p.m. Prices are phenomenally budget-friendly too, with a vegetarian menu for 15 Turkish Liras and others for 20 liras. Rumors are that kimchi will also be available for sale, so don’t miss out!

Cork of the Week: The drink of the week is definitely the spicy, silken Korean sherbet “omija.” One good option could be to spice it up further with a dash of gin, making an omija martini. Only if we could find the Korean distilled liquors goryangju or okraju!