Thursday, July 08, 2010

Food for Thought: Eat Regionally!

Here's another great post from our own Lindsey Huster. If you would like to contribute to Seoul Eats, please send me an e-mail here. 

I visited Daegu this weekend, and found myself in uncharted food territory. Every Korean dish was there, but somehow different- still side dishes and meals, yet slightly altered. Bibimbop was no longer rice and vegetables; now there was boribap, a hybrid of barley and rice, mixed with vegetables (a few unfamiliar ones), sans the fried egg.  

Also my familiar mandu pickings were replaced with Napjak mandu. This flattened dumpling looks more like a pot sticker and is filled with Korean leek, carrot, cabbage and green onion; rather than the kimchi and pork.  

Although it's easy to believe that living in Seoul results in the ultimate exposure to Korean cuisine, untested foods exist just over those mountains, rivers and seas.

The answers Korea diverse cuisine lies in its geography. Since Korea stretches most notably north to south, the climate varies greatly region to region. Dishes in the southern part of Korea are known for being saltier and spicier, and tend to use more fish for seasoning. Such regions also use more rice and barley mixtures (my Daegu encounter for example). Northern parts of Korea, which tends to be more mountainous, rely on rice mixed with cereals. Coastal regions heavily rely on fish, shellfish and seaweed for meal components.  

Korea's geography also effected the country‘s ability to become connected. Until the late nineteenth century, most transportation networks were not well developed, thus creating an environment of distinct and separate foods. Once buses and trains began to connect Korean cities and provinces, foods began to overlap and integrate. However, diversity and local dishes still thrive in each region. 
Along with boribop and Napjak mandu, Daegu is also known for makjhang, or grilled pork intestines. Other Daegu eats include blowfish bulgogi (marinated blowfish), maegi maeuntang (spicy catfish stew) and daktongjip (chicken gizzard).  

Most foods of this region, Gyeongsang, are also known for its seafood. Jinju bibimbop (jwaband), andong sakhae, dongrae pajeon (seafood and green onion pancake) and loach soup are other regional favorites.  
The food culture of Seoul tends to be excessive and showy relative to other Korean provinces. Most meals are served with a variety of side dishes, which are focused heavily around pickled vegetables and salted fish. Dishes tend to be seasoned with salted shrimp juice. Additionally, Seoul is known to utilize the sinsello, a hot pot brought over from China.  

Other provinces  continue to hail a wide other distinguishable foods.  

The Gyeonggi Province is known for more plain and simple food, like joraengi rice cake soup.  
The Chungcheong Province uses mountainous vegetables as well as bean paste. Along with a thick soybean paste soup, olgaengi, a kind of shellfish found in shallow water, is used in in soups.

The Gangwon province heavily relies on corn, buckwheat and potatoes as food staples. The province closely borders the East Sea, so there is also an abundance of squid, seaweed and Pollack. 

The Jeolla province has access to both the ocean and mountains; as a result, the food in this region is the most extensive in Korea. Since the climate is warm, the food tends to be salty and spicy. Food favorites include sliced dried octopus and Jeonju bean sprout soup.).  

Even more south, Jeju Island, contains some of Korea's most diverse foods. In addition to fish, the mountainous regions also provides mushrooms, ferns and other wild pants. Unlike most parts of Korea, rice is scarce, so barley, millet and sweet potatoes are used. Tangerines (and most citrus fruits) and abalones are eaten, too.  

Regardless of where you live and travel, Korea offers appreciable sides and meals from all spans of the country. Each dish remains connected to other meals and sides, and fits effortlessly under the generous umbrella of Korean cuisine.  

Lindsey Huster is a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. Send her an e-mail here: Lindsey Huster