In the “When Life Gives You Citrus” blog I wrote last month, I talked about the wonderful opportunity several of the chefs and marketing team from Custom Culinary® had to visit South Korea a few years back as part of the WACS Congress. A significant portion of that trip was spent in Seoul, the capital city of that beautiful country. Living just outside of NYC, I have a biased opinion regarding exciting cities and the reputation that NYC has for being the “City that Never Sleeps” but during my trip to Seoul, I humbly admit I discovered a formidable international opponent for the title.
If you ever get the chance to visit Seoul, I’m confident you will discover one of the most energetic and vibrant cities in the world, with a food scene and culture to match. As you might imagine, we spent a significant amount of our time learning as much as we could about the famous foods and ingredients of this culture and eating and experiencing as much as humanly possible while we had the chance.
We as chefs are very lucky to work at Custom Culinary® as we are truly interested in the authenticity of our global food offerings and go to great lengths to insure we get it right. Our slogan is “Be True to The Food”. That said when we go on such a food discovery mission, we take it seriously. The first thing I generally do on these trips is to visit several grocery stores to discover what the public themselves have at hand to arm their home food arsenals. On our first day, we visited two prominent grocery outlets and what we found was truly amazing. Going to a grocery store in Seoul is like going to an amusement park for foodies. I could spend this entire blog writing about that experience alone if not write an entire book. As that’s not feasible I will tell you that the kimchi section alone was eye opening. Without exaggeration, there were 30 to 40 different varieties available showcasing a huge array of vegetables far beyond Napa cabbage and radishes.
Of course, we ate at several Korean BBQ establishments to gain a firsthand look at these world-famous dining venues. It was during one of those dinners that I tasted calf lung for the first time. Not my cup of tea, I must admit, but I tried it none-the-less for the experience.
Trekking through the whole of the city under the bright neon sunshine of the late-night sky, we went from street cart to street cart and dining dive to dining dive tasting it all. From Sannakji “LIVE” baby octopus [NOT A GOOD IDEA], to Beondaegi, steamed silkworm pupae served in a cup, we tried everything. My favorite “bizarre” food was Gejang, or marinated raw crabs. Yes, you read that right. Marinated raw crabs! This dish is so popular that there is an entire alley dedicated to this delicacy.
Now, suffice it to say I truly don’t expect to see the above on American menus any time soon however Korean cuisine is steadily making its way onto menus across the United States and becoming more mainstream. A good example is a small multi state chain called SGD DUBU (So Gong Dong Tofu & BBQ). They have several locations in New York, New Jersey and Illinois (one of which luckily is only about 3 miles from my home). The menu is quite simple but perfectly delicious! A few of my favorites include Korea’s iconic, ‘Bibimbap’ a combination of steamed rice with assorted, sautéed, and seasoned vegetables served on a traditional Korean hot stone plate, ‘Kalbi’ (BBQ short ribs), and Sundubu-jjigae (silken tofu stew).
As you know and count on, Custom Culinary® is always ready to help you explore the flavors of the world with ease. Our continually expanding portfolio of products, is comprised of a full line of globally inspired sauces, marinades, food bases and broths. I truly hope that you take the opportunity to experiment with our Korean-style Bulgogi Marinade, Korean-style Bibimbap Sauce and Kimchi Prep, coming soon! Harnessing these tasty speed scratch options will most definitely help you prepare a host of Korean classics, or create international “mash ups” of your own.
To be honest, writing this blog has made me so hungry for Korean I’m on my way to SGD DUBU for lunch. I love the 6-complimentary kimchi dishes you get while you wait.
So, until next time, get creative with a little help from your friends and colleagues at Custom Culinary®.
Michael Smith, CEC, AAC
Corporate Executive Chef, Segment Sales
Custom Culinary, Inc.