Over the past several weeks, we've been trying to gather lots of knowledge about Korean cooking - even though ultimately our research isn't concerned so much with traditional recipes - we're very interested in sourcing local foods and understanding local cuisine. So far, we've made hotteok with the Mannam Volunteer Association, kimchi at O'ngo Food Communication, and root vegetables with Yoonseo Lee.
Mannam Association is a welcoming place interested in promoting cultural sharing and volunteerism. They offer regular classes, and we happened to visit the hotteok class. Hotteok are a kind of pancake, often served as street food, and are mostly delicious - if a little greasy. The people in the class were friendly, most of them were on a big week-off from English teaching (winter holidays). The hosts were also really nice - but unfortunately they taught us to cook the pancakes from a box mix, which was a bit of disappointment. It would have been better to work from scratch. However, we got to use the round pancake presser tool, which was quite a bit of fun.
At O'ngo Food Communications we were lucky enough to come on slow day (Monday morning) and received a private class with the very knowlegable director, Jia. She actually has a PhD in food and culture, and is a trained chef. We had some interesting conversations, as she made an adapted version of kimchi (vegan) with me.
Everyone says that kimchi is hard to make - but it seems that they're referring to the time and mess involved, not the actual difficulty of preparation. The napa cabbage has to be soaked in salt water for about 12 hours and then mixed with a spice concoction (chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar). Mixing the cabbage and spices does have a certain method and if you're making a lot (often the case here) it would get quite messy. But it's worth it: we've already finished our batch, and are gearing-up to make some on our own.
One interesting thing we spoke about was the symbolic differences of food plating between the East and West. Western food is often served on individual plates - a single-plate-per-person system. While at the Korean table there are many small dishes and each person can mix and match as they please. The meal is both shared, with common foods consumed, but in a manner that allows each individual to construct their own meal. This is definitely an inspiration for the co-cooking events we're developing.
Last Saturday, Yoonseo Lee taught us to make root vegetables the macrobiotic way. It was an inspiring class, with some useful knowledge - interesting tips on cooking rice and making a sea salt / sesame seed garnish were helpful. As well, learning how to cook burdock and lotus was really good. These vegetables are of special interest to us, and now we know that lotus is supposed to be a bit crunchy even after cooking... we were worried we were doing it wrong! :-)
The simplicity of cooking seasonal whole foods with straight-forward preparation is an appealing aspect to macro cooking. As well, it's an approach that ultimately takes the energetic qualties of food seriously, even down to the types of surfaces and utensils used, in addition to the angle at which the food is sliced. This opens up the meaning of food and it's preparation in a direction that allows for metaphor and sensory association beyond dry nutritional science. Yin and Yang ...
Nationally, Koreans seem very proud of their cuisine, and rightly so. Internationaly, it often gets overshadowed by Japanese and Chinese cuisine, at least in terms of gloablized exports to the west. We think that perhaps because of this, they really love to share and teach their cuisine, much more than in other countries where we have lived. And socially, food and the act of eating plays such an important role in day-to-day life, as well as the marking of seasons and holidays.
As a result of all of this immersion, and alongside our day-to-day culinary adventures here, we've been gaining courage and inspiration to experiment with cooking on our own, using a plethora of local ingredients and utilizing several cultural tropes and techniques. We are currently fine-tuning several rhizomatic recipes - you'll see some of the process-based documentation soon - and planning a small series of extending our 'radical voku' experiments, where we co-design and co-cook horizontal foods (aka rhizomes) under a horizontal arrangement with our collaborators... more to come on that soon as well!