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Foods unite two Koreas

Time: 2019-07-07 14:57cheongsam dress Click:

By Kim Ji-myung

Foods unite two Koreas

The book "Traditional Foods of Korea" (Joseon Minjok Eumsik) introduces the authentic foods of North Korea. Published by the Foreign Language Publishing House of North Korea in 2018, this 118-page catalog in English printed in color is impressive by any standard.

Three representative Korean dishes ― sinseollo, cold noodles (naengmyeon, or raengmyeon in North Korean dialect) and kimchi ― and rice wine are shown on the cover. Those three dishes may well showcase the most popular traditional haute cuisine for South Koreans, too.

Despite some differences in recipes and ingredients between the South and the North, there are enormous commonalities between their cuisines. If we try to achieve inter-Korean unification very quickly, recipes and dishes may be the easiest area with which to begin.

The publication's brief preface says, "Korea's national dishes are what the industrious and talented Korean people have created and developed with various home-grown ingredients to suit their physical constitution, taste and likings."

It then emphasizes that dishes are "countless and diversified in kind and number," which is attested to by the photos of the book. The dishes are classified as staple foods, subsidiary foods, confections and drinks, as explained in the preface.

It is interesting and surprising to find all these dishes despite the hunger-stressed image of the nation. Who has maintained the mastery of this traditional cuisine in North Korea? And how?

Korea took the first foreign missionaries and diplomats in the late 19th century by surprise with diverse kinds of headgear, differing style garments worn according to class, and occupations. Diversity of dishes and foods also were sources of wonder.

In today's South Korea, chefs invent and create new recipes, and new foods appear day by day. For example, a survey of a South Korean middle school meals shows 30 different kinds of rice are served: turmeric rice, millet rice, green tea rice, barley rice, glutinous millet rice, etc., and 25 sorts of soups served in rotation: dry shrimp and curled mallow soup, seasoned thistle and soybean paste soup, kimchi and soybean sprouts soup, and so on. However, dishes in North Korea also go beyond expectation in their diversity and quality.

Staple foods include five kinds of rice and porridges. Rice includes bibimbap and Pyongyang onban, which is one of the specialties of the North Korean capital. It is garnished with chicken and mung bean pancake. There are six different porridges. Then comes many sorts of tteok (rice cake) and noodles.

Under the subsidiary foods section are 11 kinds of soup, three tang (thicker soup) and 20 types of kimchi. Of the many soups, dangogi (sweet meat) soup is explained without telling that it is of dog meat. Three different types of sikhye are presented here, made by fermenting radishes, boiled millet, red pepper powder and garlic with the salted and pickled flesh of flatfish.

Jeongol is a dish which is boiled and served on the table. Beef, pork, catfish and seafood are the featured ingredients of jeongol in addition to vegetables.

"Jang" the bean paste and soy sauce, and "jeotgal," pickled fish, shellfish and roe, are basically the same as those of South Korea.
On the other hand, beef, oyster, scalded squid and pollack hoe (raw), dropwort-rolled meat hoe, ox liver hoe and carp sashimi are introduced. For barbecue, beef, duck, pheasant, eel, goose and skewered beef are used.

The unfamiliar name "jijigae" refers to a relatively salty soup made with meat, fish, vegetables and other materials. Soy sauce, bean paste, chili paste and picked fish are added sometimes. Jijigae is explained to be thinner and less salty than jjigae, which is common in South Korea.

More than 11 sorts of braised foods, six steamed dishes of pork trotters, sturgeon, meat, chicken and rabbit are also displayed. Diverse fried foods, beef and venison jerky, squid and pork sundae, fish jerky, pollack intestines and fried dishes follow.

At the end comes confections and drinks: taffy, kwajul (cookies), gangjong, tasik (candy), sweet jelly of adzuki (red bean) and honeyed foods. Then there are beverages: sujeonggwa (fruit punch), hwache, sikhye (soft drink). And finally, three sorts of alcohol are introduced: soju, makkeolli and gamju.
If recipes of both Koreas are combined and introduced to the world, a new horizon of hallyu (Korean wave) in food may open someday.

The writer ( is the chairwoman of the Korea Heritage Education Institute (K*Heritage).

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