Korean Grocery Tour!

Have you ever been to an ethnic market and feel a little lost in translation? Curious about ethnic ingredients and want to learn more about them? Interested in finding some great deals on fresh fruits/vegetables and exotic ingredients at reasonable prices?

Well I welcomed folks from my Chicago Cooks & Bakers group to join me as I explore Chicagoland ethnic markets. I’ve always been interested in learning about new, unfamiliar cooking ingredients of other cultures. We’re fortunate that Chicago has many ethnic shops & markets and I’d like to take advantage of them.

Today, I headed out to the suburb of Niles, IL to peruse the aisles of Super H Mart, a supermarket focused on Asian (Korean) foodstuff. I provided those that attended with some general information on Korean cuisine, a listing of Korean ingredients commonly used, information on additional Korean stores in the Chicagoland area and a bulgogi recipe. It was a great time and we all came out with some deals on produce and Asian foodstuff to try out. Here are some pics from the Korean Grocery Tour I hosted:

Enjoying lunch…

Colorful Cauliflower!
Making Kim Chee…

Kkkrrraaazy Korean Fun

My friends and I gathered for some good Korean BBQ for dinner at Solga Korean Restaurant. It was quite a fun time, thanks to some entertaining “grill masters” who took the reigns in manning the gas grill at our table.

At traditional Korean restaurants, meats are cooked at the center of the table over a charcoal grill, surrounded by various banchan and individual rice bowls. The cooked meat is then cut into small pieces and wrapped with fresh lettuce leaves, with rice, thin slice of garlic, ssamjang (mixture of gochujang and dwenjang), and other seasoning.

We feasted on Galbi,which was beef ribs, cooked on a metal plate over charcoal (or gas) in the center of the table. This is often referred to as “Korean BBQ“, and can be seasoned or unseasoned.
Even the bones are grilled and the remaining meat can be eaten (although it is extremely tough!) Here’s Louis attempting to eat the meat off the bone…
We also has Dakgalbi, a variation using seasoned chicken.
Banchan (also spelled panchan), refers to small side-dishes served along with cooked rice in Korean cuisine. This word is used both in the singular and plural. The most famous banchan is Kimchi. Banchan are set in the middle of the table to be shared. At the center of the table is the main course, such as our galbi. Banchan are served in small portions, meant to be finished at each meal. They can be replenished during the meal as they are finished.

Some tips on eating the banchan:

DO taste the complimentary assortment of banchan, small plates of kimchi, pickled vegetables, and other side dishes typically brought to the table just after ordering.

DONT try to stuff the banchan into your barbecue/lettuce sandwich. Leave them as side dishes to savor on their own. In other words, keep the sandwich simple: lettuce, meat, bean paste, shredded scallion or leek, and garlic.

Some banchan we had last night included:

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish consisting of fermented chili peppers and vegetables, usually based on cabbage. Kimchi may have originally meant “steeped/submerged vegetable.”

Japchae (also spelled jabchae or chapchae) is a dish made from sweet potato flour cellophane noodles (called dang myeon), stir fried in sesame oil with sliced beef and various vegetables (such as thinly-sliced carrots, onion, spinach & mushrooms), flavored with soy sauce, and sweetened with sugar. Japchae is most commonly served as a side dish, though it may also be ordered as a main dish. It is also often served on a bed of rice; together with rice it is known as japchae-bap.
Lettuce is always served with Korean BBQ and is used like a tortilla in Mexican cuisine. It’s used as a wrap to fill BBQ and eaten like a sandwich. Some tips on eating with lettuce:

DO tear off a small piece of lettuce (“face up,” with the bottom of the rib facing down) to wrap around the freshly grilled meat and make a bite-size sandwich.

DONT grab an entire leaf of lettuce to form a Chipotle-caliber Korean burrito.

As a sweet ending, we had a beautiful platter of fresh fruit:
And washed it down with a chilled cinnamon ginger tea topped with a pine nut.
Overall it was a great night with friends and even after such a great meal, the night wasn’t over! Karaoke was the second half of the night, but alas, we were happy and content with just the meal. 🙂

BBQ in the Winter?

Yes… that’s right. We had BBQ for dinner! Not the traditional kind, but Korean BBQ. Specifically, I prepared kalbi.

Kalbi (or galbi) is a Korean dish made from beef short ribs, and sometimes pork ribs. Galbi literally means “rib” in Korean. It can be seasoned or unseasoned, and if seasoned variety, the ribs are marinated in a sauce made from fruit juice (usually Asian pear juice), rice wine, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and sugar. Most recipes contain these basic ingredients, although many variations exist, including clear marinades and spicier marinades.

For tonight, I decided to marinate the beef short ribs in soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, sesame oil, sugar and black pepper. I didn’t take any specific measurements for each of those ingredients, but you could try the “little bit of this, little bit of that” method.

In the bitter cold winds of Chicago, we grill in the winter using our panini press at our house… since we don’t believe in unitaskers! It came out succulent and perfectly seared. With the kalbi, I made sushi rice, seasoned with rice vinegar and a touch of sugar. Overall, our dinner was the next best thing to going to a Korean BBQ restaurant!

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Here are some Korean recipes featured in my blog: