A stall operator in
a Korean market prepares for a busy day
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"A man can live
without a wife but not without kimchi"
. . an old Korean
A RUGGED LAND OF MOUNTAINS,
FOREST AND JAGGED COASTLINE HAS PRODUCED AN
EQUALLY ROBUST AND DELICIOUS
MANY FACTORS HAVE
CONTRIBUTED TO THE EVOLUTION OF KOREAN COOKING OVER THE CENTURIES, THE
MOST IMPORTANT OF THESE ARE THE GEOGRAPHY, CLIMATE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF
MEDICINAL VEGETABLES AND HERBS.
After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north. The Korean War (1950-53) had US and other UN forces intervene to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks supported by the Chinese. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel. Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 20 times the level of North Korea. South Korea has maintained its commitment to democratize its political processes. In June 2000, a historic first north-south summit took place between the south's President KIM Dae-jung and the north's leader KIM Chong-il.
As one of the Four Tigers of East Asia,
South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and integration
into the high-tech modern world economy. Three decades ago GDP per capita
was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.
Today its GDP per capita is roughly 20 times North Korea's and equal to
the lesser economies of the European Union. This success through the late
1980s was achieved by a system of close government/business ties,
including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific
industries, and a strong labor effort. The government promoted the import
of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and
encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The Asian financial
crisis of 1997-99 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea's
development model, including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign
borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector. Growth plunged by 6.6%
in 1998, then strongly recovered to 10.8% in 1999 and 9.2% in 2000. Growth
fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling
exports, and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial
reforms have stalled. Led by industry and construction, growth in 2002 was
an impressive 5.8%.
OF GINSENG, KIM CHI & ALL
Many factors have contributed to the
evolution of Korea cooking over the centuries. The most important of these
are the geography and climate, the importance of medicinal vegetables and
herbs, and the various influences that have presented themselves through
out the history of this Land of Morning Calm.
Koreans often look to herbal remedies for
illness, the result of their grounding in Chinese medical belief about the
yin-yang balance of the body and the warming-cooling properties of certain
foods. The most common medicinal foods used in cooking are jujube (red
dates), ginseng, ginkgo, pine seeds, chestnuts and tangerine. The
properties in the garlic which the Koreans often eat raw wrapped in a
lettuce leaf round barbecued meat, is said to cleanse the blood and aid
digestion. Nuts are supposed to be good for pregnancy as well as the skin;
jujube and bellflower roots for coughs and colds; raw potato juice for an
upset stomach; while dried pollack and with beans sprouts and tofu is said
to be good for hangovers.
One of Korea's most universally recognized
symbols and also a staple of the Korean diet is popular Ginseng (Insam).
The roots are grown in long neat rows protected from the elements by
thatched shelters. After harvesting, they are washed, peeled and dried,
then sorted according to age and quality into white ginseng types. Red
ginseng which is regarded by the Korean as the very best, is steamed
before being dried in the sun. This is believed to increase its medicinal
potency. Koreans consume an enormous amount of ginseng in its various
forms - roots, pills, capsules, candies, chewing gums, cigarettes, tonics
and beauty products. Ginseng tea (insam cha) is a national drink.
Perhaps the most famous ginseng dish is the ginseng chicken soup (Samgyetang).
It is a sweet, tender, flavorsome dish that is sublimely cooling on hot
summer days. ( Recipe for 'Samgyetang' is available through the
FREE subscription of our weekly recipe e-zine,
Even today it is virtually impossible to
find a Korean house, apartment or monastery without rows of big, black
enameled kimchi pots on the porch or balcony. Kimchi can be
preserved for a long time. Its hot and spicy taste stimulate the appetite,
and it is nutritious, providing vitamins, lactic acid and minerals
otherwise in the winter diet. The introduction of chili into the pickling
process of vegetables in the 17th century was an important milestone in
the Korean food culture. Using the combination of chili, fish and
vegetables resulted in a unique method of food preservation and led to the
adoption of 'kimchi' and as a Korean staple. Garlic and chilies are
the mainstays of basic kimchi formula. Heads of fresh cabbage are
cut open, salted, placed in brine with lots of red chili and garlic
and set to ferment. In summer, when the fermentation is more rapid,
kimchi is made fresh everyday. In winter the kimchi pots are packed in
straw and buried in the earth to prevent freezing, then left to ferment
for months. There are hundreds of kimchi types in the country.
The Korean barbecue, bulgogi, is
well known through out the world and in Korea is a popular way of cooking
beef in restaurants and in street stalls. At home, family usually use a
table-top grill for this purpose.
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