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Gochu-JJANG!: Spice Up Your Korean Food Experience

  • by Raven Lester Esperanza

Can I confess? -- “I am addicted to Korean food.”, and let us be honest, we have ridden the strong currents of the Hallyu Wave since everyone was introduced to the simple yet sophisticated fermented side dish, “kimchi.”, to the point that some of us tried to make our own versions. Perhaps, some may even have gotten interested with Korean cuisine when they were astonished by the skills of the “jewel” in the palace, none other than Dae Jang-geum.

Hallyu Wave is not just about the music or the drama series you have been obsessed with. Food also takes part in this hot craze. To be precise, these phenomena or the influence of a culture in someone’s daily life, coupled with its abundance in social media platforms, were effective in flaming such “cravings.”

Korean Royal Court Cuisine/Set Up - Courtesy of Korea.Net

I mean, how can you not resist the juiciest sizzle you have ever heard of once the samgyeopsal hits the grill? Also, tell me, how often did you crave for unlimited meats when samgyup-restos started popping around the Metro? How about the completeness-in-one-meal rice rolls, kimbap, that we thought were related to makis? And of course, you have tried -- at least once -- the tiring but worth it do-it-yourself drink, dalgona drink just because you were bored during the quarantine.

Screenshot scene from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Courtesy of MBC

Now, you might be asking, “I have been eating the same-old recipes of my favorite Korean dish. How can I bring them to the next level?” (You are not going to Kwangya, are you? ^^) Though I ain’t a chef nor a food expert, I am obviously passionate about food and Korean culture. So why not combine them together? Well, here are some of my personal tips that you can follow through to actually spice up your Korean food experience:

STOCKS, MMM...TREASURE!

We often take a trip to our kitchen then open our fridge to find food without any reason, just because we were hypnotized by some mukbangs we see while scrolling (then drooling) on our phone. But what if not so much is to be seen inside?

In fact, when I am too tired to think about what to eat, my last resort is to have ramyeon. To make it more appetizing, I customize my ramyeon. I tend to add one and a half tablespoons of gochujang and chili flakes aside from the flavor packet. I also add kimchi juice for more kick. Then, add some slices of ham or a can of sausage (or both most of the time) for protein. When the noodles are almost cooked, I add one raw egg, mix, then put some sesame seeds and a teaspoon of sesame oil. For more added texture, I cut some seasoned seaweeds and put them on top.

Noodle Recipes of NCT Chenle, GOT7 Mark, and Mamamoo Hwasa featured in Buzzfeed’s Which Celebrity Makes The Best Ramen?

There is nothing wrong with such freedom in customizing but for that to happen try to take a chance in taking a trip to your closest Korean mart and avail items that could be an essential to any “kravings.'' These are roasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, chili powder/flakes, soybean paste (doenjang), and of course, the red chili paste (gochujang) and pre-made kimchi. Definitely, cooking Korean food with these powerhouse ingredients can make your life easier as they are commonly found in every Korean dish: ramyeon, tteokbeokki, japchae, jjigae, kimchi bokkeumbap and many more. Although some could also be added or be served as a side dish even to our own Filipino dishes. (Kimchi is actually good with fried food *wink*)

There is nothing wrong in including some Korean food items in our weekly (or monthly) groceries. Maybe this could be a trigger for you to try other Korean dishes aside from the ones you’re familiar with?

Korean Marts in the Metro, Gangnam Mart in BGC

BALANCE YOUR GOCHU

Not all Korean dishes are spicy. But tell me, we tend to gain more appetite when we eat spicy food, right? “Gochu” is basically “Korean chili pepper”, and personally, I am fond of eating spicy food up to the extremes even before I tried my first ever Korean food. Perhaps, I gained more power in taking more Scoville because I tried copying people doing mukbang who eat raw peppers. I mean, do I still feel pain?

Kimbap and Bibimbap, Courtesy of Korea.net

But do not feel intimidated. Korean food is definitely masisseoyo. Koreans tend to mix a variety of ingredients and flavors in one meal. Likewise, they are also particular in having diverse colors in one dish, as they believe that every color gives unique nutrients that our body needs. Such belief is actually their secret to living longer and getting their glass skin.

Mr. Sharwin Tee, Chef, Television Host, and Author for Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines’ Meet the K-Stans in the Philippines: EP 4 K-FOOD

It is all about balance. That is one principle we need to put in mind when preparing Korean food, “One should not overpower others.” As a matter of fact, side dishes or banchan are staple in every meal in every household. Even though having banchan would mean having more plates to clean up, it is actually worth it, because you are assured not only of good food, but of good health as well.

Korean Side Dishes, Courtesy of The Korea Herald

FLAVOR THAT OPENS ALL YOUR SENSES

Though we are always baited with alluring photos or videos of Korean food being served on the internet, some are still having second thoughts in recreating Korean dishes at home. The reasons may vary: they have not tasted any Korean food, they think Korean food is just spicy, they haven’t been to Korea and tasted authentic ones, and many more. But to be honest, they are actually very simple and easy. Sometimes, producing a “perfect” replication of the dish you wanted on your first try could lead to unlikely results. Perhaps, the authenticity of your own version could be better than what you have imagined it to be. Practice many times until you get the flavor that you want.

Chikahansik 2021: Kimchi Edition - Thumbnails Series, Courtesy of Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines

Good thing there is a way to get your creative juices flowing: watching cooking shows, events, or videos on YouTube. The Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines actually gives us a great opportunity to get a glimpse on how to prepare Korean food easily as recently they have launched the “Chikahansik 2021: Kimchi Edition” where four recipes were created using kimchi that compliments the Filipino palate. Your eyes would be feasted. Your tummies would surely growl. And at the same time, your brain would be filled as well. You might want to check out their appetizing recipes, together with some chikahan with their notable guests here.

On the other hand, I do enjoy laid back and fun Korean variety/reality shows that actually provide me with ideas on how to recreate Korean dishes... all thanks to Viu! Some of my personal recommendations are Three Meals A Day, Our Little Summer Vacation, House on Wheels, Youn’s Kitchen & Stay, Coffee Friends, Stars’ Top Recipe at Fun-Staurant, and many more. (I also have to get other sides of my favorite K-artists!)

Screenshot Scenes from - Our Little Summer Vacation, House on Wheels, Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast, Coffee Friends, Youn’s Stay, Three Meals A Day

Little did I know that SMART recently launched their new data promo that is actually greater than the previous offers. This new promo allows me to enjoy my favorite shows both on YouTube and Viu. In case you are running out of data, do check out the “Giga K-Video” promo, which includes a variety of choices on how much data you would need for YouTube and Viu access. The best part: it gives you free Viu Premium access! You won’t have to miss another episode on your favorite series from now on!

KCC KREW Members - After Event Hangouts, photos from Dawn Naval (@oneuldawn)

In sum, Korean food is just as simple as what we already have in our daily life. It does not require much professional skills while being prepared. But it sure goes well with a lot of heart. You just need to be committed and patient. Perhaps, it would be a good addition to your memory collection if later on you will prepare it with your friends and family.

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Raven Lester Esperanza

Raven is a passionate enthusiast of Korean culture and a member of Korean Cultural Center’s “KREW Volunteer Program” here in the Philippines. He has been a fan of K-Pop since 2010, and now he considers himself as an “Eri-STAY”, a fan of EXO and Stray Kids. He extends his advocacy in promoting both cultural efforts by supporting the Center’s activities, doing write-up blogs and other contents, including his podcast, “Squawking Raven”.