I can't quite recall exactly when it was that i fell so deeply in love with Korean food, that it has now almost overtaken (dare i say it) my former first love, Chinese food. Perhaps its been a handful of years but definitely not more.
I'll get straight to the point. Korea is known for its barbecued meats... Everything from pork, beef and chicken to squid and prawns... and it is all superb. The tradition is that you sit at a table that has a special built in gas hot plate and they bring you the raw marinaded meats and grill them right in front of your very eyes. I found this whole process torturous, because when foods is so blatantly paraded in front of me yet i have to be patient... Its like a 'Red rag to a bull'. I'm told, my pupils dilate and my mouth begins to water as i focus on bounty in front of me.
Bulgogi is one of the most famous dishes that comes from Korea. Usually thin slices of beef marinated in a very delicate, almost sweet, soy-based sauce and grilled to perfection. Also DaegiBulgogi (my fave) which is thin slivers of pork belly meat marinated a sweet and spicy sauce, kind of like that of a BBQ rib marinade, but far better and using real chillis, charred on the grill to give it a smoky finish. Typically served with steamed rice and a variety of accompaniments to suit all tastes.
The most famous accompaniment is Kimchee. Fermented Chinese cabbage pickle in a fiery ginger, chilli and garlic pickling brine. Sounds digusting? You would be wrong. I admit, at first i was a little apprehensive. I can only say that the very first mouthful was bizarre, so much so that the first word that popped into my head was "Fizzy".... "The cabbage tastes fizzy!" This can probably be attributed to the fermentation process, having said that, i will be perfectly truthful with you... I absolutely love the stuff!!! I cannot get enough of it. So much so, i have (as we speak) no less than 12 packs of it in my fridge. I am completely addicted to it. No wonder it is a national institution in Korea, so much so, they put it in everything! Stir fried Kimchi rice, Kimchi stew, Kimchi noodles and even (wait for it) Kimchi topped pizza! Its a global phenomenon! and even more intriguing is that it can be traced back nearly 3,000 years ago! There is even an entire Wikepedia page devoted to it and best of all for me it has virtually no calories and chilli, garlic and ginger are incredibly good for the digestion.
Whilst there is a thriving Korean community in New Malden in London, it is still hard to find really good Korean food in the centre of town. But good news folks as i am more than happy to share my favourite Korean joint with you! "Arang" is a gem of a restaurant, tucked away in the heart of Soho on Golden Square. The staff are lovely and very friendly and the food is always fantastic and extremely reasonable. You can have a very substantial lunch in there with a BBQ meat of your choice, some rice, Kimchi, 2 other accompaniments AND my favourite beef and rice noodle salad "Jap Cheh" for under £10 pounds! Hard to believe? Well go and see for yourself! Who knows? Maybe you will feel more brave and go for some Bibimbab, which is a rice based dish in a scorching clay pot that sizzles when brought to the table and they crack an egg into it, in front of you, which makes a kind of special fried rice, if you will!
Visit Arang's website and see for yourself: http://www.arang.co.uk/ So go and see for yourself, just how good Korean food is! Its healthy, delicious, diverse and a fabulously inexpensive treat, expecially in hard times like this! If you feel a little adventurous, i did pick up one word in Korean on my travels and that is: "Cum-sum-mee-daaa" which simply means thank you.