korean food in japan
I didn’t have plans to cook on Wednesday, since I usually go out with a friend after yoga, but this past Wednesday was cold, rainy, and busy, so my plans never quite came together in time.
On the way back home through the rain I stopped at one of the specialty stores in Shinjuku I frequent and picked up a jar of the ingredient I’d been missing the night before: gochujang, a Korean red pepper paste.
Before coming to Japan I didn’t know much about Korean food. San Francisco is known for being a big melting pot of cultures with access to food from just about any part of the world, but my knowledge of Korean food while living there was limited to Korean Barbecue; and, not really being a meat eater, I’d only ventured into a Korean restaurant once.
I can’t quite say that living in Tokyo has really opened up my eyes to the wide world of Korean cuisine, as I do not consider myself to be terribly knowledgeable about it as a whole; but over the past few years that I have lived here I have been introduced more closely to the aspects of Korean food that are well-known to the Japanese. I was also able to learn a lot from the Korean friends I made during my first year here as an exchange student (such as the information that most Korean homes have a separate fridge -just- for kimchi making, did you know that?), and even had the good fortune to experience it first hand when I spent a couple of eye-opening days in Seoul a few years ago.
Although the Japanese palate is accustomed to very mild flavors and most Japanese cannot handle a level of spiciness above a weak medium, they still have a love affair with toned down versions of dishes from Korea. As in America, mentioning Korean food does conjure up images of barbecue and meats, but there are a few other staples known to most of the population that I had never heard of prior to coming here (although I’m confident that they have become more well-known back home in the time I’ve been gone).
The two most ubiquitous dishes are bibimba and chijimi, but it is also popular to add kimuchi, red pepper, and nira (garlic chives) to just about any dish and call it Kankoku-fuu, or Korean-style. Kimchi as a stand-alone ingredient is quite popular in Japan and served relatively often; similar to how gyoza (Chinese pot-stickers) have been adopted to the point that they might be thought of as a native dish to those who don’t know very much about Japanese food in general.
I was wary of kimchi at first, expecting it to be both oddly flavored and too spicy, but I quickly realized that my reservations were completely unfounded and really enjoy it now. It is actually one of my favorite additions for okonomiyaki and nabe, and you may remember Eric and I gushing about the kimchi tsukemen at our local ramen shop just a few short weeks ago (we actually stopped there twice while it was available!)
But enough background on Korean food and on to my actual dinner.
This is a Japanese-style Korean inspired dish I improvised one evening a few years back that became a regular in my kitchen for quite a while. For some reason I seem to have forgotten about it in time, and have not made it in at least a year, but with my recent cravings for fermented foods it crept into my mind last week and I could not shake the thought until I’d made it again.
This is not a heavily flavored dish, despite the kimchi and gochujang. It is similar in flavor and style to chige-nabe, a Japanese hot-pot dish made with Korean flavors, though with much less soup. Feel free the increase the amounts of kimchi and gochujang to your preferences. I sometimes make it with double the kimchi, but used what I had available this time.
This dish comes together very quickly, despite the number of steps and instructions, and I consider it to be a good meal for an evening that is busy, but not too busy to resort to emergency meals. Though it is very voluminous, most of its volume comes from the vegetables, so it is a good choice when you want a light,warming meal that is also very filling.
A note on the gochujang: The first time I bought gochujang I got it from a store called Kankoku Hiroba in Shin-Ookubo, which is known as the Korean section of Tokyo. It is a really great place to find authentic Korean ingredients for a really good price, as well as bulk kimchi, etc. The gochujang manufactured by other companies in Japan is not at all of the same quality as what you will find in Shin-Ookubo. You can use it in a pinch, as I did this time, but it is worth the trip to get the real stuff. I’m not sure what the availability is outside of Japan, but I’m guessing it can be found in any decent Asian foods section.
Kimchi Glass Noodles
- 100 g glass or cellophane noodles
600 g momen-dofu (firm tofu)
1 tsp peanut oil
200 g carrots, julienned
150 g enoki mushrooms
125 g moyashi (bean sprouts)
200 g hakusai (napa cabbage)
50 g nira
150 g hakusai kimch
50 g gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
2 cloves garlic
1-inch piece of ginger root
Bring a pot of water to a boil, cut the heat, and add the glass noodles. Cover and let sit for about 6 minutes, or until the noodles are soft and cooked through. Drain and set aside until needed.
Open the tofu and set on a cutting board to drain slightly before using. This is a soupy dish, so the tofu does not have to be pressed, but draining it will allow it to absorb more flavor later on. Also take the time to wash and prepare all of your vegetables in advance. Cut the carrots into matchsticks, cut the enoki in half, wash and roughly chop the hakusai, cut the nira into 5 cm pieces, and mince the garlic and ginger.
Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl, and heat a small non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, turn the heat to low and use a paper towel or cooking spray to lightly coat the entire surface of the pan with oil. Working in two batches, pour the beaten egg into the pan and swirl to create a thin, even layer of egg over the surface of the pan. Let cook until just set but still slightly wet on top, then flip the egg and cook the other side for 20-30 seconds to finish. Remove to a cutting board, cut in half and then into ribbons, and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once hot add the oil, followed by the carrots, garlic, and ginger, and stir fry for just a minute to cook. Add the kimchi, moyashi, enoki, hakusai, and gochujang and stir-fry for another minute to let the flavors combine. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the skillet by about 1/2 an inch and bring to a light simmer. Add the cubed tofu and nira and let simmer for just a few minutes longer until the tofu is heated through and the vegetables are cooked but still retain some texture. Stir in the egg ribbons and turn off the heat.
Divide the glass noodles into large bowls and top with the kimchi vegetables. Depending on the amount of liquid left in the bottom of the skillet you can serve it more or less soupy as desired. I like it relatively wet, but not quite to the point of being a real soup. Makes four very voluminous servings; or you can add one extra egg and make six smaller servings.
Are you familiar with Korean food? How do you feel about fermented foods such as kimchi and gochujang?