6th April 2013 - Daniel Vais
When I first met Daniel, I was bowled over by his heritage. Part Iraqi, part Hungarian, he is Israeli. Yet talking to him, despite our incredibly different backgrounds, we could have had the same grandmother. She cooked, the more complicated the better, she put all her love into her cooking, and she fed the 5,000. She is the woman who gave us both our love of cooking and family and feeding people. [He is also the curator of TEDx Hackney, which makes him an EVEN MORE interesting person ;-)]
So imagine my surprise when he told me he would like to cook Korean for us. For some reason, Daniel feels a strong affinity to Korea, and has spent years learning Korean food from Koreans (I believe his exact words to me were "don't worry, I cook like a Korean mama"). He even makes his own kimchi, the spicy fermented garlicy cabbage which is the signature Korean foodstuff.
Daniel (funnily enough, this is a very popular name amongst Koreans!) has written a bit about Korean food and culture for us, along with his menu:
Korean food (Hansik) is not as well-known as many other Asian foods, but Korean culture and cuisine has a long tradition and is starting to become much better known. Korean culture is a Dynastic feudal culture, like the Chinese, and has also had many external influences over the years, including the Persians, the Mongols and the Japanese. Several of these dynasties were very sophisticated with highly developed sciences, art, philosophy and cuisine.
Ingredients and dishes vary by province. Many regional dishes have become national, and dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. The Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family.
Korean cuisine is largely based upon rice, vegetables, meats and fermentation of various of vegetables and roots. Traditional Korean meals are noted for both their spicyness and the number of Namuls (side dishes) that accompany short-grain rice with of course Kimchi, the king of Korean Cuisine, served often, sometimes at every meal. Other commonly used ingredients include Spring onions, Sesame oil, Doenjang (fermented bean paste), Soy, garlic Ginger and Gochujang (fermented red chili paste).
The key to the Korean kitchen is fermentation. Every nation has their unique fermented foods such as cheese, yogurt or natto, but Korea excels. Fermentation makes food both more digestible but also acts as a preservative, as Korea has cold winters and the people needed to preserve their summer vegetables. The quintessential fermented food of hansik is kimchi, and although there are hundreds of different kinds, the most internationally well known is spicy fermented cabbage. When meeting someone who has never encountered kimchi before, Koreans may introduce its as a type of salad, a kind of salad made using spices, red peppers, salt, garlic and oriental cabbage, sauerkraut with a kick, if you will. But this simple explanation leaves out the most important variable, that of fermentation, which is the entire key to how a particular batch of kimchi might taste. The kimchi that is preferred most by Korean people contains salted shrimp or anchovies and has aged underground for at least a year in a jangdokdae (large clay jar). Like a fine wine, the process of aging gives kimchi its deep taste.
Kimchiguk - Tuna and Kimchi soup
Chapsaldeok - Mochi or rice cakes with red beans inside