Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rediscover Seoul

Colors, meanings, charms and flavors in Korean dishes

There was a very popular drama entitled “Daejanggeum” which depicted stories that took place in the royal kitchen. The colorful Korean food that filled the screen was attractive to the eyes of million people. The food was based on the royal dishes which reflected Yin-Yang and five elements of Oriental thought. Today, let’s discover Korean food that is made with the ingredients harvested from Korea and which illustrates the spirit of the country.

In the Oriental world (including Korea), there is a traditional theory called “Eumyangohaeng (Yin-Yang and Five elements).” What is the relationship between this Eumyangohaeng and Korean food?

Eumyangohaeng means that Yin-qi and Yang-qi were created to become sky and earth, then these two qi created the five elements -- wood, fire, earth, metal and water. According to the theory, white, yellow and red have Yang-qi while blue and black have Yin-qi. The five elements are represented by five colors and five bearings, which includes four directions and center. Yellow corresponds to the center, blue to the east, white to the west, red to South and black to North.

The most effective way to understand this theory through food is with bibimbap. Toppings of various colors are placed on top of white rice. You can see these five colors at a glance. In one bowl, you see the Yin and Yang, and in fact, the whole universe. Gujeolpan is another example of food using the Eumyangohaeng theory, since ingredients of various colors are wrapped in a thin white wheat crepe.

The first Hangeul cookbook

Modern Korean food does not always follow the spirit of Eumyangohaeng, but we can still find some restaurants serving dishes which contain the spirit of Korea and are made with ingredients grown and harvested in this land. Let us go to Insa-dong. Along the alley of Insa-dong, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Seoul, restaurants, tea houses, cafés and food stands abound. On the corner of one particular alley is Dimibang, a restaurant.

The word “Dimibang” means a room where the King eats his royal meals. Kings must have eaten good food cooked with ingredients in season harvested from every corner of the Korean Peninsula. This means that the table of Dimibang is also filled with good food.

“Eumsikdimibang,” the first cookbook written in Hangeul by a woman.

In addition, Dimibang is the shortened title of a cookbook, “Eumsikdimibang.” Eumsikdimibang was written by a Jeong, the wife of a high ranking government official, in 1680 (the 11th year of King Hyeonjong). It is the first cookbook in East Asia written by a woman and in the Korean language. On the cover, the book says “Eumsikdimibang” in Korean. The title is a Sino-Korean word meaning “the ways to know flavor of food.” The book introduced recipes passed down through generations, Jeong’s own recipes, and recipes for special food enjoyed in noble families. In addition, it recorded flour-based food, rice cakes, fish and meat dishes, and how to brew traditional alcoholic beverages in detail. This book provides enough information for us to understand the philosophy pursued by the restaurant Dimibang. The restaurant itself is very humble, so some people may be disappointed with the appearance of the restaurant.

Mountains and fields on the table

However, people can be surprised when sit at a table. This restaurant is the only medicinal herb restaurant in Korea, where the medicinal herb specialist Choi Jin-gyu, president of Korean Native Medicinal Herb Institute, provides nature-friendly food made based on his experience and knowledge of herbs. The restaurant not only serves seasonal ingredients but also healthy herbal food in the Korean style. Choi is famous for his book on folk medicines, and for being a third generation herbalist. He collects most of the herbs served on the table himself, from mountains such as Jirisan, Palgongsan, and Odaesan. Dimibang never uses meat or MSGs, and the food is seasoned naturally with shitake mushrooms, sea kelp, garlic, onion or horseradish.
Source : The korea Herald

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