Treated like royalty at Korean-themed dinner

In recent years there has been a rush of interest in the cuisine enjoyed by royalty, not only of the present time, but also from decades and centuries past.

On DStv channels of late there has been a series of programme looking at food styles enjoyed by kings and queens of the British Isles, going back more than a thousand years. I watched Royal Recipes on ITV Choice with great interest, and noted that a great many dishes we know so well, especially in top-end dining venues, stem from their birth at the hands of creative chefs in the kitchens of castles and palaces. I know, too, that cuisine as laid on for the royals of other European countries has been something of a focus in books and on television.

There has also been a renewal of interest in royal cuisine of far eastern countries, and I read with interest an article that said a major upsurge was being experienced in the Republic of Korea — which we commonly call South Korea — and this focused not only on the food style, but also the service style, of the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910. In recent years the Korean government has inscribed its food heritage as an Intangible Cultural Property and has a national keeper in charge of overseeing this.

I read about this after being invited for the second time to a meal at the residence of the Korean ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Cho Jaichel.

As readers of this column will know, I attended the food festival of Korean dishes laid on at the residence for a number of invited guests a few weeks ago.

There followed an invitation to a special evening meal for a small group of table guests, featuring a Royal Dinner. And we were treated like royalty indeed! Mr Cho explained as we sat that he had decided to have something of a fusion dinner, so while some of the content would feature a Royal Dinner serving, some would be with other influences.

We started with a mushroom soup, delightfully creamy and very tasty. Then followed a prawn and pine nut salad, which was equally delicious and visually appealing.

A third course moved into the area of Korean cuisine: TteokGalbi, patties created from grilled short ribs. Next was a definite Royal Dinner feature: a royal hot pot, with diced meat and vegetables steamed in an attractive hot pot.

My reading into this cuisine style showed that the hot pot is a much favoured centrepiece for all such meals and, while the content of the food could vary, the style of cooking and serving should be as it was for us.

As if that was not enough, the next course was equally creative and satisfying, and very much in the style of a Korean Royal Dinner.

Laid out on a tray was an interesting and enjoyable selection, including a rice and thistle soup with soyabean paste, served with ramekins containing kimchi, garlic salad, grilled fish in a citrus sauce and three-coloured jeon (pan-fried meat fritters, chives and another style of kimchi).

Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine: a traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radishes, with a variety of seasonings, including gochugaru, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal.

Of course, chefs can mix and match and much of what is served depends on local availability of content. Dessert was a blueberry pie, accompanied by Tteok (rice cake) and fresh fruit. We ended with coffee and tea served with a very light pastry.

It was a superb meal and very satisfying, and although a read of this list makes it sound enormous, the servings were sensibly portioned. The creativeness of the flavours and colours, and the interesting serving styles, made it that much more entertaining and gave us an insight into the complexities of Korean cuisine. Mr Cho was generous in laying this on for our group, and he was an interesting host as we chatted through the evening about a range of topics, from his previous postings in the foreign service to what the Koreans are doing in Zimbabwe. How wonderful for Mr Cho to lay on a spread that shows the richness and splendour of the cuisine and culture of his homeland. Our group enjoyed it immensely.

As I said in my report on the Korean food festival, I really wish someone would start up a Korean restaurant in Harare. Our insights into the cuisine at these two events have really whet many an appetite, and I feel this cuisine would be a welcome addition to the international styles already available to us in this country. I know we had one or two Korean dining venues about 10 to 15 years ago, but they did not seem to last, and it is definitely time for a new Korean restaurant, if the recent tastings I have done are anything to go by.

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