If one has to define Korean cuisine, it will be ‘simple and basic’. Unlike Indian cuisine which boasts diverse cooking styles, a variety of ingredients and elaborate recipes, Korean food is all about minimalism, and serving uncomplicated and healthy food because it makes use of only seasonings and herbs.
Sounds boring? But plain food is not always boring. In fact, Korean food is flavoursome, rich in aroma and full of health benefits. While rice, vegetables and meat constitute a large part of the cuisine, methods like fermentation, blanching and poaching are the traditional ways of cooking in Korea which ensures that the natural flavours, as well as the healthy properties of the ingredients, remain intact in the dish.
Celebrating Korean culture and cuisine, Baan Tao, Hyatt Pune, Kalyani Nagar, is hosting Taste of Korea Food Festival. They have invited chef Jeong Hwangil from Park Hyatt Busan, South Korea, to create some authentic dishes. The festival, which continues till March 5, is serving both set menu and à la carte options. At the festival, Hwangil is supported by Suvendu Roy, head chef, Hyatt Pune, Kalyani Nagar, and his team.
To bring a feel of Korea, the pillars and walls of Baan Tao are decorated with colourful paper fans and the ceiling is adorned with flags in vibrant hues which read Baan Tao written in Korean language. We visited the restaurant to taste some of the dishes prepared by Hwangil and to know more about what Koreans eat and their special dishes.
Says Hwangil, who is visiting India for the first time, “My mum was an amazing cook and I am deeply inspired by the way she cooked — it was simple yet delicious. I try to recreate her magic in my cooking. At the festival, I have designed the menu in such a way that it will give the patrons a glimpse of Korea through the food. The menu consists of soups, salads, appetisers, mains and a dessert. Since, I am new to India and quite unaware of the eating habits of Indians who do not eat a lot of things that we eat in Korea, I consulted with the hotel’s chefs before designing the menu to make it more inclusive so that even vegetarians can enjoy.”
The first dish that the chef presented us with was Prawn, Scallops and Squid Salad with Pine Nut Sauce. An assortment of seafood with pine nut dressing, it took us by surprise because for Indians, salads are all about greens. But to our amazement, the salad was a melange of flavours and the pine nut sauce gave it an amazing taste and texture.
Next, we were served Kimchi. This staple in Korean cuisine is a traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables and trust us, we’ve never had a better pickle as delicious. The chef presented before us two varieties of Kimchi — a traditional fermented Korean cabbage pickle and Cucumber Kimchi which had a hint of garlic, ginger, pepper and soy sauce.
While we were relishing our lunch, the chef told us about a few ingredients that are used in Korean cuisine — ginseng, sesame oil, soy sauce, water chestnut, ginger, pepper flakes, gochujang (fermented red chilli paste), doenjang (fermented bean paste) and Napa cabbage. He made an interesting revelation about Koreans who do not use spices in their cooking and have very few desserts. However, he has kept one dessert in the menu because Indians love to end their meal on a sweet note.
“Unlike India and the Middle-Eastern countries, we are not gifted with natural resources of spices, hence they are not part of our cooking, except cinnamon. Also, occasionally, we make a sweet drink with cinnamon or eat rice cake,” he says adding, “I have prepared Red Bean Jelly, Pear and Omija Sorbet for the festival.”
Some of the dishes that are being served at the festival are Mero Gu-I — roasted cod fish with chilli paste sauce, Bossam Plate — steamed pork belly, bean paste sauce and vegetables, Bibimbap — assorted vegetables with sticky rice, sweet pepper paste and poached eggs.
When the chef presented Samgyetang — the Korean Chicken Soup in which the chicken is stuffed with rice and flavoured with ginseng, chestnut, dates, and served with chicken stock and garnished with chopped spring onion, we couldn’t help but ask how was the rice stuffed inside the chicken.
“The chicken is stuffed with soaked rice and other ingredients are added for flavour. Everything is cooked by poaching/ boiling till it has broth in it. It is served uncut and the meat is tender and cuts easily. It’s served with salt or/ and pepper on the side,” the chef explains.
While Bibimbap was being served on our plate, I wondered how vegetables can actually look so beautiful and appetising. Served with a chilli sauce and sans the poached eggs, Bibimbap, by far, is the most interesting version of vegetables that I have ever tasted. When the chef insisted that we must try Red Bean Jelly, Pear and Omija Sorbet, we realised that the Red Bean Jelly was sweet but wasn’t sugary and the tangy Sorbet was a perfect accompaniment for the dessert.
ST READER SERVICE
Taste of Korea, will be on till March 5, at Baan Tao, Hyatt Pune, Kalyani Nagar. Timings: Lunch (noon-5 pm) and dinner