Korean cuisine has to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. An approach where food is considered as medicine, where medicine is administered only when food does not heal enough. Korean food borrows from Japanese and Chinese cuisines, more from the former, I feel. For the curious, Korean food has a refreshing flavour profile. No single dominant note, rather a judicious blend of several tastes and textures. This healthful cuisine employs ingredients such as fermented soya paste, red chilli paste, garlic, sesame oil, and the now-world-famous kimchi (fermented cabbage). Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and has more than a hundred varieties.
When invited to the preview of the Korean Food Festival currently running at Sheraton, Bangalore, I was curious to know what it holds for a vegetarian. This is what I experienced there.
The Chefs decided to do away with the familiar Korean barbeque. Instead, they showcased a whole gamut of unique dishes from the country. The menu is cyclic for the duration of the festival, so you could go several times and still have different offerings on the menu.
We began the evening with dainty morsels of Gimbap. Gim – seaweed sheets, Bap – steamed rice. Gimbap is Korean sushi. It tastes different from Japanese sushi though, because sesame oil is used to flavour the rice. Other fillings include mushrooms, fresh carrot juliennes, greens, meats and seafood. While the menu for the evening featured exotic Korean Spicy Squid Soup and Kimchi Soup (both non-vegetarian), the visiting chefs under the expert guidance of the Executive Chef, Martin Kindleysides, took care of the vegetarians by rustling up a soothing warm soup for us too.
The visiting Chef from Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel, Mr. Link Chung, made us all a bowl of Bibimbap. Another gastronomic gift to the world from the Korean Cuisine, Bibimbap is a bowl of rice with fermented chilli paste, fermented soya paste, kimchi, sesame oil, fresh vegetables, oyster mushrooms and more.
We then went on to savour several other distinguishing dishes of this cuisine. Some of the unique dishes I sampled were -
Water kimchi – a winter kimchi made with fermented radishes, apples, rather like a tart-sweet vinegar, potent, cough inducing stuff. Worked well between slurps of the chilled Kong guk su which, by the way, is a bowl of boiled soy noodles topped with creamy soy broth, served chilled. Delicious!
Japchae - Sweet potato noodles stir fried with sesame oil and tossed with black fungus and fresh crunchy veggies. I could have gladly just had several bowls of this faintly sweet noodles, but then, I had the onerous job of tasting all that was on offer. So I pulled myself reluctantly away and moved on. This was my most preferred dish of the evening.
Kimchi fried rice – The vegetarian version of Kimchi fried rice tasted like Pad Thai meets Ellu Saadam/ Ellu Chitranna. good, but not out-of-the world.
Mandu – steamed dumplings. Could not sample them as they had meat fillings that day. The festival has a cyclic menu through the duration, so if you were to go, I am sure you would find vegan/vegetarian Mandu too.
We were served this hot balmy Korean Tea at the end of the dinner. Said to aid digestion, the tea was fragrant with cinnamon, and a whiff of cardamom!
Apparently, the Koreans do not have much of a sweet tooth. The desserts were very mildly sweet, if so. All save one, were rice-based. While the South Indian in me liked that, I could relish only the Songpyeon –a half moon shaped rice cake with a filling of fermented soya paste. Does this remind you of the Ganesh Chaturthi modaks?
It is noteworthy that barring the seafood and meat dishes, Korean food is vegan! It is easy to alter the mostly carnivorous cuisine to vegan requirements.
I returned with a new appreciation for a relatively unknown cuisine in India. I am certain that Korean Food will entice Bangalore with its huge expat population as well as the adventurous well-travelled Indians who live here.
The Korean Food festival is on at Feast, Sheraton Bangalore Hotel, at Brigade Gateway. Visiting Chefs Link Chan Jae Chung and Shane Yun-Gi Hong, from Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel, have gone to great lengths to bring authentic Korean food to our city. If you needed more reasons apart from the cheerful ambience and the humungous spread at Feast, this food festival should help you make a decision to treat your self and family there!
Dates – 13th February to 25th February, 2015.
Frequency – Daily lunch and dinner.
Price – Lunch @ Rs. 1395+taxes and Dinner @ Rs. 1545 + taxes.