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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Korean Dining: A Feast For the Palate and the Soul


“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Korean food has definitely zoomed into the worldwide spotlight in the past few years. Always delicious, aesthetically intoxicating as it sits before you, and a veritable aerobics class for one’s taste buds, Korean food is taking the international culinary scene by storm.  From New Zealand to New York, Korean restaurants are converting thousands of new initiates daily into Korean food junkies. According to Robert Lee a contributor at eHow food, “New York City is full of great restaurants, and some of its Korean restaurants claim to be among the best in the world.”

But Korean food in and of itself, is only half the picture. Perhaps equally important is the cultural phenomenon of communal dining. The “yin” to this “yang” is the importance that Koreans attach to the meaning of togetherness. There is the very real sense when eating in Korea that the community, be they family or friends, or a combination of both, comes together to share in the bounty of nature. It’s communal dining where more is merrier.
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Korean dining is a communal experience. The more people, the merrier. Most food is shared, unlike the western approach with individual servings
This communal process is demonstrated in how food is served as well.  Unlike western style, the emphasis is on sharing. Numerous small dishes, called panch’an (반찬), are laid in the middle of the table for all to share. Popular panch’an dishes include kimchee (김치), cold bean sprouts (콩나물), spinach (시금치나물), seaweed (미역무침), pancakes with scallions (파전) and various potato dishes (감자), amongst countless, delicious, others. In the center of the table are the main courses—these too are shared by all. Only rice and soup are typically served individually.
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Panch’an (반찬), an endless array of small dishes, are laid in the middle of the table for all to share
Some say that per capita Korea could possibly have the most restaurants in the world. Daegu would certainly not be the exception with marvelous restaurants lining nearly every block of this great city. But it is important to note that when it comes to Korean food, “dining well,” is not just a matter of eating good food, it is equally about “eating well”--the very process of how Koreans eat their food: together, in community, and sharing by cultural design. It is this latter aspect of Korean dining which makes every meal in Daegu, a feast for both the palate and the soul.

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