Chennai is no foreigner to Korean cuisine: one of the most mesmerizing food festivals was held at Express Avenue, Chennai. Many numbers of chefs within the city along with Korean chefs clubbed together to make this event a mesmerizing one. Nevertheless, the cuisine has never quite become middle-of-the-road, regardless of its dormant fame.
There are only a few restaurants serving Korean food, but all of them have faithful followings.While people may be unwilling about tasting this Asian cuisine over the more acquainted ones like Japanese or Thai, they are enamoured, says Raj Darjee, executive chef Hilton Chennai who participated in the food fest held. “Today Korean food is offered everywhere than it was earlier, and patrons are not antagonistic to trailing”.The piquant ‘Ramyun’, which is a soupy noodle-like dish, and the ‘Jeyuk Dubap’ (pork with sweet and spicy vegetables) are customer’s popular choice he says. A Korean meal has a price tag between Rs. 1100 to Rs.
2500 as the ingredients are imported. Saline ‘Doenjang’ (soybean paste), fermented kimchi (pickled cabbage), flaming ‘Gochujang’ (spicy paste of red chili and gummy rice) are few of the common flavors that are complex and strong and unfamiliar to the Indian appetites. Even though rice becomes the base for many of the dishes, it is served in a variety of forms in Korean style of cooking. “The simple rice bowl along with a plethora of dips (banchan) served with curry – like sauce tossed with vegetables or meat is how most of the Korean dishes are served,” says Lalith Katta, sous chef at Park Hyatt Chennai.Korean food is all about vegetables, but a major portion of the dishes have seafood and meat. Chef Sangeetha Barooah Pisharoty explains, “In Korea, dolsot (stoneware bowls) are kept in the kiln for a very long time; they sustain the heat and therefore dishes like ‘bibimbap’, a combination of broth, rice, meat, and vegetables, are kept inside this to make the food warm” adds the chef. This helps in bringing the broth to boil and cooks the vegetables and meat very well.
Caramelised onion impart flavor, mirin, nori, chili flakes, daikon, bok choy, soy sauce, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, pumpkin, lotus stems, garlic, and spinach are the commonly used ingredients. Another peculiarity about the dish is that the diners get a chance to cook their own dish. Now you can’t blame the chef if your food is bad! Chef Jun Yeol Kim has flown in from the Millennium Seoul Hilton exclusively for this food fest. He was one of the prominent figures who was involved throughout the event and made sure that all the customers felt that they are actually part of Korean cuisine. Chef Achal Aggarwal was indeed happy to see the flags of South Korea all around the place amplifying the whole Korean fest ambiance. Apart from the cuisine, there was also an event ‘Nanta’ by the chefs who was part of the fest. ‘Nanta’ is a show using kitchen cutleries, where they hit them in a special rhythm soothing the crowd. A wide variety of Korea’s authentic dishes and a live counter for Galbi and Sundae was also arranged.
Apart from this, the easily available dishes like Teppanyaki, pasta, and sushi, winding -up with a good dessert spread was also available. ‘Sikhye’ was the welcome drink; a blend of water, malted barley flour, sugar and cooked. How lipsticks are important to an attire, so is salads for Korean foods. The food fest saw an ample number of salad varieties with shrimps, fish, beef, papaya and many other exclusive combinations.
The Korean Bellflower and ‘Dotorimuk’, a vegetarian jelly made from corn starch were used as pickles and also blended with soy sauce base along with sesame seeds. “Loved their ‘Bulgogi’ (beef salad), ‘Kongnamul muchim'(bean sprout)’Sangchu Geotjeori'(lettuce)Jat Saeu Muchim (shrimp with peanut salad)” said Meenal, a customer who attended the fest. “Their ‘Buddae Jjigae’ (army stew) was one of the best soup I had” added Meenal. Along with the salads were an array of porridges like ‘Daechu-gom’ (jujube porridge), ‘Jangguk-juk (beef porridge)’, ‘Hobak-juk ‘(pumpkin porridge) were few of them.
For mains, we had quite a few options from the Korean table, including their Barbeque which I felt was the best of the night. “We had Barbeque Chicken, special Lamb, and Beef, each with its own unique flavors to serve as, the main course,” said Chef Yim Jung – Sik. “While the Grilled Chicken Leg known as ‘Dak Yangnueom Gooi’ in our language was a little sugary and smoky with a touch of burnt edges” added the Chef. “The ‘Jajangmyeon’ stole the show, being super cooked with flavors soaked completely into the meat,” said Suraj, a customer who tasted most of the dish from the food fest. The ‘Jjim’ made with steaming boiling meat, chicken and fish was an additional treat for all the customers.
Other than this there was the ‘Tteokguk’, sliced rice cake soup is a traditional Korean dish. “Tried two of the vegetarian sides made with sauteed mushrooms which were hot and rich with umami-filled base gravy and a sauteed sweet potato dish called ‘Kamja’ with spices, was something I would like to add to my menu,” said Chef Srinivas, ITC Grand Chola, and Chennai. “A variety of noodles translated as ‘glass noodles’ was yum!” added the chef. The customers were then served with a unique flavor of tea made with soy spice and cinnamon known as the “Soy Spice Chai Latte’. How can the food fest be complete without the Korean desserts? A widespread of desserts like ‘Opera Cake’, ‘Makgeolli Sool Bbang’ (Steamed Cake with Korean Rice Wine), Blueberry Mousse were few of them who secured a top position among the rest.
With miscellaneous choices to trial this stimulating cuisine, it might be worthy to set aside any trepidations and delusions and taste a Korean meal if one ever get a chance to. Once you do that you might give a surprise for yourself. “We are happy to host this food fest and would love to come back with a season 2” said Chef Sangeetha Barooah Pisharoty.