Americans are no longer strangers to kimchi. We have fallen for the spicy, bold, and soul-warming tastes of Korean cuisine as they’ve made their way into our fine dining restaurants and specialty supermarkets.
But there’s much more to explore beyond the typical Koreatown fare. Last week, the K-Food Fair, organized by exporter Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, introduced a wide range of delicious Korean foods to American consumers, from snacks to condiments to alcoholic beverages. Tasting booths were set up at supermarkets in New York City, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other parts of the country.
At Food Bazaar Supermarket in Long Island City, Queens, on Nov. 12, curious shoppers from various cultural backgrounds sampled foods they hadn’t tried before, eager to learn more about Korean cuisine.
They discovered, for example, that kimchi comes in many different permutations. There’s geotjeori (lightly salted) kimchi, made fresh instead of fermented. When raw napa cabbage gets slathered in all those red pepper flakes and potent aromatics, the resulting kimchi becomes more spicy than funky, with a crunchy texture. It can be easily made with ingredients bought at a typical supermarket. At Korean grocery stores, you can also find a variety of vegetables fermented kimchi-style, from ponytail radish to cucumbers.
Many of the fermented pastes and sauces used in Korean cooking can be seamlessly incorporated into common American dishes. Chef Angelo Sosa, a former “Top Chef” contestant who operates several Latin-inspired restaurants in New York City, gave a talk with Korean-American chef Hooni Kim at the K-Food Fair opening event held at The Times Center on Nov. 11. Sosa raved about a recipe for tomato soup in which he adds gochujang (fermented pepper paste), lending an extra dimension to an Italian classic.
“Fusion is not something to shy away from. Fusion is connection,” Sosa said.
These days, gochujang is available in different forms: mixed with barbecue sauce (tangy with a hint of heat) or mayo (creamy and piquant), for example.
It can also be artisanal. JookJangYeon is a Korean brand that makes gochujang, soy sauce, and doenjang (Korean miso) according to traditional methods, aging its all-natural products for at least three years. Like fine wine, the bottles are labeled by the year the sauce was placed into traditional earthenware pots for fermenting.
Korean snacks are equally enticing. Gochujang-spiked seaweed chips are a sure hit for spice lovers, while seaweed roasted with fragrant grape seed oil makes for a healthy, addictive snack rich in umami. They can be washed down with refreshing, healthful beverages like fruit-flavored aloe drinks (said to help boost your immune system, among other benefits), green tangerine (a fruit unique to Asia) juice, and sujeonggwa, a traditional punch made with cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar, and dried persimmon, nutty and comforting.
There’s also a world of Korean alcoholic beverages to explore. Bokbunja ju is a fruit wine made from Korean black raspberries that’s tart and a tad sweet. Soju, a popular spirit, is now being handcrafted in the United States, using organic sticky rice and a traditional yeast. The result is a clean, mellow taste that goes down smoothly.
With more and more Korean products becoming available to American consumers, now’s the time to try the varied, tantalizing flavors of Korean cuisine.