Enjoy a taste of Korea from your very own pantry! Here are some Korean kitchen and cooking staples every foodie loves
There's plenty to love about Korean culture—including the condiments! If you're a habitual diner at your local samgyeopsal restaurant, then you may have noticed some of these before. Otherwise, let us introduce you to some of the most exciting ingredients you'll encounter when dining Korean-style.
You may have heard of gochujang before; after all, this Korean staple has been a favourite in add-on in marinades, stew bases, and samgyeopsal. Its fiery red appearance may seem intimidating, but this condiment packs a punch of sweetness too. It's made from red chilli peppers, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. The fermentation process allows the glutinous rice to convert into sugars, giving this spicy side a sweet kick. Soybeans add complexity and umami to the dark, red paste that's a fundamental ingredient to budae jjigae (Korean army stew), and tteokbokki (rice cakes).
Fermented soybeans and salt birth one of Korea's most favourite pastes: doenjang. Its brown colour is distinct, almost reminiscent of chunky peanut butter. Its smell, while overpowering, gives way to a flavourful and unique taste experience. Some Koreans like to make their own doenjang at home, where it will take weeks (or even years) to ferment. The longer it ferments, the more umami the taste. Some popular recipes which incorporate doenjang include doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) or bossam (boiled pork wraps).
Alongside gochujang, ssamjang is a beloved Korean condiment made primarily by adding in sesame oil, garlic, green onions, and brown sugar to a potent combination of doenjang (another type of soybean paste) and gochujang. It's rather popular; in fact, you've probably had it at a local samgyeopsal restaurant as ssamjang is best paired with ssam, a lettuce wrap with meat or seafood right inside. On its own, it can also be used as a dipping sauce for vegetables like carrots and cucumber!
It seems as if plenty of other countries have their own take on soy sauce. For Korea, it's ganjang, a mildly flavoured soy sauce that's darker and sweeter, yet less salty. It's fairly light and is therefore best as a dipping sauce. Those looking for something more intense can find it with guk-ganjang, a more flavourful soy sauce that's made of soybeans and brine. It is often used for flavouring soups.
Perhaps one of the best comfort foods out there is jjajangmyeon, the black bean noodles we often find in K-dramas and Korean restaurants. What makes this iconic dish so special is chunjang, the black bean sauce made from fermented soybean that boasts of a slightly bitter, slightly salty taste. Some cooks like to add sugar to add more balance to the recipe, while others prefer it without. Other countries, such as China, have their own take on the black bean paste, but Korea's chunjang is specially beloved by all.
One of the most fragrant cooking oils out there has got to be sesame oil. Chamkireum, which is toasted sesame oil, proves just how delicious this can be, drizzled over soups, salads, and porridge. It has a dark red-brown colour and a strong nutty flavour, which while delicious, begs for caution when used so as not to be overwhelming to the taste buds.
Fish sauce: you either love it or you hate it. In Korean cuisine, there's a wide range of fish sauces that diners can choose from, all of which are known for their salty, savoury, umami tastes. The most popular type of aekjeot is the myeolchi aekjeot, which is anchovy sauce. There's also kkanari aejot (sand lance sauce) and chamchi aekjeot (tuna sauce). Each are made with similar processes, salting the fish and fermenting them for that delicious flavour that's often found in kimchi, soups, and stews.
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