Corona Chronicles: Trip to Korea
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
One of the best Korean BBQs I've been to was in Koreatown in NYC. Korean BBQ is a fun, interactive cooking experience. Another fun part to the Korean BBQ is all the banchan. I was craving a new adventure during quarantine so I went Korean!
Banchan is a group of side dishes that you are to eat with your Korean BBQ. When I first was introduced to Korean food, I was confused about how to eat it. There were just so many options. Someone explained that's it's simply like the french fries. You eat it along with the meal. Banchan can include so many options like seaweed salad, fish cakes, kimchi, fermented squid, cucumber salad, Korean-style pancakes, soy marinated eggs, etc. The list can go on forever. The banchan can be vegetarian or not. It can be spicy or mild. Hot or cold. Having a variety of options is a great way to change the tastes of the meal as you go along.
I'm fortunate enough to have a couple H-Mart grocery stores close to me. This is a Korean grocery store chain. They usually carry a lot of regional Asian ingredients. Some of them have restaurants in the stores so you can have a taste of some authentic foods before or after you shop. I find that these stores have hard to find items including fresh fruits and vegetables. If I need some inspiration on cooking, I'll walk around there and I will never leave disappointed.
To complete my meal, I bought my banchan already made from H-mart. I also bought frozen scallion pancakes that I only had to reheat on the stovetop and frozen dumplings that I pan fried and steamed. Let me tell you how yummy they both were. Delicious! I had never tried these brands before but I will buy them again. And don't worry, they have instructions in English as well.
I learned that some Korean dishes are sweet. The japchae I made is a sweet potato noodle dish with beef. I made mine with thinly sliced short rib. The recipe called for sugar which wasn't unusual. A lot of Thai dishes and spicy dishes call for sugar to balance out the flavors. The japchae called for a heap of sugar which made the dish came out sweet. I also realized that it was a lot easier than I imagined it to be. I cooked all the items of the japchae separately and combined them at the end.
The banchan is what made this presentation look so yummy! So when you're hosting your Korean feast for your friends make sure to include lots of colorful banchan. You can try eggplant, cucumbers, and egg to bring in all the different colors. Because of the seasonings for a lot of the dishes, a lot of red items are easy to find. You'll have to remember to add in some different colors to brighten up your presentation.
However, you are practicing social distancing, stay safe and have fun. There's no right or wrong way to pass the time. So be easy on yourself.