Friday, 23 April 2010


“The heart remembers what the head erased.” – Korean proverb

I was in Sydney for the day today for work. I attended a special Australia-Korea partnership for the future Business Briefing Forum supported by the Australia-Korea Business Council. The event was very good in that if nothing else it allowed some serious networking to occur, by bringing under the same roof people who had the same goals and strategies. The Ambassador of Korea to Australia, H.E. Dr Woosang Kim gave a very informative and engaging talk and the Australia Government was represented by two parliamentary secretaries to ministers.

The event was catered for very well and during the morning break there was entertainment also in the form of a Korean folk dancer who performed two traditional dances, the flower dance and the fan dance. For lunch I joined an educational envoy and two of his staff and we enjoyed a traditional Korean meal at the Daejangkum Restaurant. This was a very warm and friendly restaurant with some very good food. Most people think that Korean food is like Chinese or Japanese, but in fact, it has its own distinct style and uses ingredients in special and locally defined ways.

I read about the influence of Korean culture and religion on food, and there are some extremely interesting and admirable things about it. For example, Buddhist monk Dae An, owner of Balwoo Gongyang Temple restaurant, says about food:
“It is important that temple food does not run counter to nature. It minimises the use of artificially processed foods by insisting on seasonal natural produce. The food is simple and plain. We make only what we can eat; no leftovers are allowed. We should be grateful for our food, always aware of the travail of the farmer and nature in bringing a single grain of rice to fruition…”

How simple and fundamental and wise this statement is. How we could learn from it and apply it to our own table…

Both Busshism and Confucianism are widespread in Korea and these two philosophies have elegant, simple precepts whose observance leads to a harmonious coexistence with other people, animals, nature and the environment. Confucianism teaches Koreans to respect their elders as a matter of course and respect other people as a show of good etiquette. In meals this translates thus:

“Respect for elders dictates that you do not pick up your spoon or chopsticks until an older person has begun to eat. Conversely, you should be careful not to continue eating after an older person has finished. When drinking wine, etiquette dictates that you should turn your head away from the older person.

It is considered uncouth to make noises while eating. You should not slurp soup and noodle dishes. Do not talk with your mouth full and if you need to talk do it quietly and limit the conversation to the essentials. In earlier times, all meals were conducted in silence, but this has been relaxed somewhat nowadays. Do not lift your rice or soup bowl from the table (as the Chinese often do), as this is considered impolite.

Eat with an awareness of hygiene. A meal is a very sociable occasion in Korea and much sharing of side-dishes or even main courses occurs. Do not rummage through the side dishes with your chopsticks. Use the serving spoons provided. Wrap meat and fish bones in a paper towel and dispose of them discreetly without the other people being aware of it. Turn aside to sneeze, use your handkerchief to cover your mouth and nose and preferably wash your hands before resuming your meal.”

I really like these rules!

Rice is the staple food of Korea and it is the basis for highly nutritious and delicious dishes. Rice and products, prepared in all sorts of different ways can form the foundation of many a meal, and be prepared in endless varieties of savoury and sweet ways. The Korean word for rice is “bap” and this turns up in many a recipe. For example, steamed rice is “ssalbap”, while “bibimbap” (= mixed rice) is a savoury rice dish served with seasonal vegetables served on top of it.

A variant of this is dolsot bibimbap (“dolsot” meaning stone pot), which is bibimbap served in a very hot stone bowl in which a raw egg is added last and it is cooked against the sides of the bowl. The bowl is so hot that anything that touches it sizzles for minutes. Before the rice is placed in the bowl, the bottom of the bowl is coated with sesame oil, making the dish fragrant, but also the layer of the rice touching the bowl becomes golden and crispy. Numerous side dishes usually accompany the meal and these are flavoursome, spicy, sour, crisp, sweet and tart. Fermented dishes and pickles are also favoured.

Gogi gui, (Korean barbecue) refers to the Korean method of grilling various meats in a distinctive way. Such dishes are often prepared at the diner’s table on gas or charcoal grills that are built into the centre of the table itself. Most diners enjoy doing their own grilling at the table. Some Korean restaurants that do not have built-in grills provide portable stoves for diners to use at their tables.

At lunch we had the traditional dolsot bibimbap with various side-dishes. It was delicious and a wonderful vegetarian meal, which was healthful as well as tasty.


  1. I dont think I've ever tried Korean, Nic. I have had Chinese and Japanese often and I like those. Now I'll search for Korean because it sounds yummy!!!!