We stayed in Incheon, South Korea, on our way to Thailand. I love Korean food, and according to a recent article in one of my food magazines, is becoming the hot new trend for ethnic food in the U.S. Not only is it healthy, with all the vegetable side dishes, but the fermented kim chee is very good for you. I wrote about the health benefits of kim chee several years ago and had many Koreans either write me or come up to me and tell me they were very grateful that I wrote about their kim chee, something every good Korean woman knows how to make, from handed down recipes of mothers and grandmothers.
I had the pleasure of sitting in the airplane next to a college professor from Seoul who teaches physical education at the university. She had been to Silicon Valley to visit her daughter, who worked for Samsung there. Her daughter went to UMass in Amherst and being bilingual, had no problem landing a job at Samsung. We talked about Korean food as she proudly told me that she knew how to make 20 different kinds of kim chee and how eating kim chee daily would eliminate the need to any other probiotics like yogurt.
We arrived at our hotel in time to check in and have dinner. The night was crisp and cool, with clumps of ice and snow on the sidewalk.
We first came upon an octopus restaurant which intrigued me. There were two octopus tanks outside the restaurant to tempt passersby. I looked inside and noticed that there were no chairs, just low tables with a griddle in the center. My very tall husband of 6-foot-4 could not possibly enjoy his dinner sitting on the floor and then manage to try to get up after a meal, so we passed up the chance to eat the freshest octopus.
We walked further and found a restaurant packed with families, mostly sitting on chairs, with one section for those who wanted to sit on the floor with the low tables. We immediately walked in as the cold 27 degrees bit through our clothes and the warmth of going indoors sounded like a great idea at that moment. The restaurant was nice and toasty, with steam coming out of the just delivered food to the other tables.
As we pointed and ordered a seafood hot pot and an octopus and oyster hot pot, and asking for the seafood, one not too hot and spicy for Jim, she nodded to us as if she understood what we wanted. In a few minutes, she brought several side dishes of Napa cabbage kim chee, taegu, raw squid in a kochoo jang sauce, and slices of dried tofu, seasoned in a light soy sauce. That dish was not red and spicy looking so I knew Jim could eat that and the fried piece of whole fish, which tasted like fried opelu of Hawaii. There was also a small dish of sheets of Korean nori, which was crispy and well seasoned.
The hot pot came and apparently she did not understand “not too spicy” as they both looked red and chili pepper fiery.
The broth came sizzling hot and we could understand why most of the patrons there ordered the hot pot, as it tasted so good with the cold weather outside.
The rice also came in a hot pot. The waitress, seeing that we were foreigners and not aware of what we were supposed to do, cracked a raw egg and mixed it into the seafood hot pot to cook it a little for us. She scooped the rice, which was in a hot pot, then poured hot tea into the pot, which had crispy rice adhering to the sides of the pot. The tea sizzled and softened the rice, which was then eaten with at the end of the meal, like the “ochazuke” of Japan, or tea and rice. It was like a palate cleanser after a spicy meal!
I was thoroughly enjoying eating my side dishes of kim chee and raw squid in kochoo jang. I detected a bit of miso in the raw squid, and on top of the hot rice, it made a meal for me!
The waitress or probably the owner, came by and said something in Korean, and I politely nodded my head with approval. I thought she was asking if I had finished eating all my side dishes and if it was ok to take the now-empty dishes away. Well never, assume, as she came with a complete set of side dishes, more kim chee, raw squid and taegu for me. Needless to say, as much as I enjoyed them, I did not need another serving!
I loved the cold weather and the food of Korea and would go back in a heartbeat. After all, I bought a thick, quilted jacket for this weather and was totally protected from the bitter cold, and the foods of Korea are healthy and delicious!
The Foods of India will be featured at the Bamboo Hale at the Hawaii Community College from today till Thursday, March 21. Call 934-2591 for reservations, 934-2559 for the Cafeteria menu.
Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.