All Aspects of Korean Cuisine Come to Light

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 7, 2000 | Go to article overview
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All Aspects of Korean Cuisine Come to Light


In his new book ``Food War, Culture War,'' Choo Yong-ha, an ethnography professor at Kyonghee University, reveals lesser known facts that most Koreans would prefer not to know. The red chili peppered kimchi and pulgogi, which are considered as quintessential Korean cuisine, were, in fact, something unheard of among the majority of 19th century Koreans. Furthermore, the enticing sweet taste of puglogi is a Japanese invention from early this century.

Of course, various prototypes of these two recipes have existed in Korea for ages. But kimchi existed in a less exciting form as pickled cabbage without chili, while beef steeped just with soy sauce known as ``Nobiani'' was the closest ancestor to pulgogi.

If this find prompts in the hearts of readers something similar to a sense of betrayal, it is only natural. For all these years, these two dishes have been promoted -- both to locals and foreigners -- as representative of``Koreanness.'' Yet, like so many other ``authentic'' cuisines, they too are myths, generated by the government and business hoping to capitalize on cultural images.

To point the finger at state and business interests is not the aim of this new book, which is filled with fascinating and lesser known stories about food told by an sharp-eyed sociologist. Rather, the author hopes to set the record straight about prevalent misconceptions, and to examine the sociopolitical backgrounds responsible for such views.

To that end, in his 340-page volume the author provides an extensive overview on what is known as ethnic Korean food, spices and drinks. Along with a detailed history of each item, the book offers insight into the social, religious, economic, political and cultural backgrounds related with the evolution of local culinary culture.

The book is the culmination of ten years of study by Choo, who is considered a leading expert on the relationship between food and ethnic culture. Having spent eight years at Pulmuone Kimchi Museum which armed him with hands-on knowledge and experience about Korean food, he went to Beijing, China to pursue a PhD in ethnography.

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