A Snapshot of Korean Cuisine
Brighton Food Reviewer, Ami Kang-Thornton
Korean food may have well hit its stride in the States (where I was born and raised) most likely for the fact that there is a relatively large population of Koreans (The United States has the second largest population of Koreans outside of Korea, according to a recent survey), but here in the UK, it has only just starting to create a stir amongst curious foodies. Without sounding like an exhaustive Wiki explanation, I’ll try and break down Korean grub in digestible form for those who are brand new to its spicy charms.
It All Starts With Rice
Korean cuisine is centred around rice (steamed and short-grained), like most Asian cuisine, as well as meat and vegetables. There is ALWAYS an array of side dishes, known as banchan with every meal, as well as some sort of broth or soup to wash it all down. A few examples of banchan might be namul (or seasoned vegetables, usually with lightly toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, salt and garlic), crispy seasoned seaweed, myulchi bokkeum (an umami flavour bomb of sweet and salty stir-fried dried anchovies) or japchae (noodles made with sweet potato, lightly stir-fried with vegetables like spinach and carrots and sometimes beef).
Kimchi – True Soul of Korean Food
But perhaps most importantly, you really can not call a meal Korean unless there is some variety of Korea’s national dish, kimchi (a fermented dish usually made with Napa cabbage but also comes in the guise of cucumbers and radishes with garlic and a variety of spices). Kimchi is the true soul of Korean food. As a matter of fact, my unapologetically Korean father would probably skip a meal if it wasn’t present! My love of Korean food centres around banchan and the fact that there are a variety of textures and flavour combinations to keep things interesting. Which brings me to my only bugbear when it comes to Korean restaurants in the UK, which is that banchan, usually complimentary, is almost always at an additional cost which takes away from the true Korean gastro-experience in my opinion!
You’ll find the key ingredients used in Korean food tend to be soy sauce, red pepper flakes, gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste), doenjang (a very pungent, fermented bean paste), sesame seed oil, copious amounts of garlic, sweeteners like pears, apples and honey, ginger and salt. Varying combinations of these ingredients are the foundation of many popular Korean dishes such as bulgogi (marinated beef usually cooked on a fiery grill), dolsot bibimbap (rice topped with beef, vegetables and mixed together with a spicy sauce served in a hot stone bowl) or kimchi jigae (a hearty and warming kimchi stew).
Korean Street Food
In the UK, you’ll find most Korean food to be straight-forward and rarely steer away from the staples, however there have definitely been new perspectives, for example, from American celebrity chef Judy Joo, the feisty mastermind behind Jinjuu in London, which serves modern Korean street/anju (drinking) inspired food as well as trendy K-food joints On The Bab and Jubo (both in London).You’ll find the most popular Korean street food to be dakgangjeong (or super crunchy Korean fried chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce) which has been replicated many times over in many hipster hot spots across the globe, but there are also other street food treasures such as tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), gimbap (Korean sushi) and of course, mandu – the ubiquitous dumpling.
But what about dessert? Truth is, Koreans don’t really do dessert. Not like the French, anyway. Or any Western country for that matter. It’s not really a THING, traditionally, to have something sweet at the end of a meal but rather for a celebration of some sort, whether it be for New Years or birthdays. Korean confectionery is usually some kind of glutinous sweet rice flour wrapped around sweetened red beans and often use ingredients like honey, pine nuts, chestnuts and pumpkin. Recently, however, Koreans have developed more of a sweet tooth and you’ll find fusion-style cake and biscuits in more modern establishments.
Up and Coming Cuisine
I genuinely look forward to K-food finding its feet in the UK, on a more mainstream scale, with the help of larger Korean chain restaurants such as Bibigo (London) and similar establishments (such as global retailer Korea Foods) all trying to globalise Korean cuisine for the UK market. In the meantime, start your spicy, colourful gastronomic journey at these local Korean or Korean-inspired restaurants in Brighton.
Where To Find Korean Food In Brighton…
This tiny takeaway is on busy Gardner Street and caters to Brighton’s hungry lunch crowd. Namul specialises in bibimbap and you’ll find a huge variety of ways (even for our veggie/vegan friends) to eat one of Korea’s most popular dishes.
Top Tip: Try the seasoned black rice in your bibimbap for an extra kick and make sure to add a dollop of kimchi for that authentic, fiery Korean taste.
Unit 32, The Open Market
This brand new, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it addition to The Open Market only just finished applying the last coat of paint to its walls when I stumbled across it. Owned by a super sweet Korean/Japanese lady called Miya, Kor-Pan serves Korean and Japanese classics, a nod to her roots.
As of this moment, Kor-Pan is not yet open but be on the look out as it will open its doors any day now!
Once a popular London izakaya, Bincho Yakitori has made its way to Brighton to much acclaim. Though the premise of the menu is based around food served in a Japanese watering hole (or, izakaya), there were quite a few interesting Korean-inspired dishes. Bincho feels cool, relevant and seems to have its finger on the foodie pulse.
Top Tip: Try the Korean-inspired deep-fried cauliflower with a sticky, sweet and spicy Korean glaze and topped with black sesame seeds for an edgy interpretation. Don’t forget to wash it down with a cold Hite.