First things first, I'd like to put it out there that I fell in love with South Korea through its cuisine, then the sights, people, products (during my honeymoon) and I'm only checking out k-pop now. LoL such a late bloomer.
Some of you may wish to try your hand at cooking korean (we have limited halal options here in Singapore) and would like to know more about the essential ingredients. Since I've dabbled a fair bit, I thought I'll share some of these should have items in your pantry before you begin. :)
This thing is HUGE is korean cooking. I've used it often enough to know you need it. Dishes such as Tteokpokki (streetstyle), stews, some pajeons (pancakes)..
Basically it's fermented red bean paste, spicy, moreish and provides a depth of flavour. Ingredients are usually sweet rice powder, red peppers, fermented soy beans... something like the Malay's taucho but less pungent. For Muslims, there are cases where some of these have alcohol in it so please check the ingredients sticker pasted on the container in English unless you know Hangeul. :)
Dried Korean red pepper flakes. I've tried substituting this with local red chilli powder... but nope, that did not do it. These babies have a fresher taste and makes a world of difference to obtaining tteokpokki that tastes significantly authentic to the ones in Seoul. A little pricey but worth investing on a small pack.
Light Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, toasted Sesame Seeds
These are the essential flavour makers in most korean dishes. Substituting with local/ regionally made ones made no difference to taste (to me at least) so I'd say save a bit of cash and use what you already have. Sesame oil is great to have for making banchan (side dishes) and as a marinade ingredient. Sesame seeds are almost always used for garnish.
This is an absolute MUST. It seems like spring onions tend to be THE herb to use in korean cooking as most of the dishes call for it. Do look out for the thinner Thailand spring onions as these give a pleasant flavour rather than the larger purple bulbed kind. You can still use those if you'd like, just my personal preference for the thinner ones.
Rice cakes!!! My first love in korean cuisine. Nothing beats the soft chewiness of fresh tteok, but frozen ones work fine. These are essentially sweet glutinous rice pounded, steamed and shaped. Added to stews, soups or as a carbo dish on its own.
Word of caution though, some tteok contain alcohol to help to "preserve" them, so when buying frozen ones, please check. Local brand, Singlong's tteoks contain alcohol so I usually avoid those.
I shall leave you all here for now, I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of essentials to korean cooking but these are the few should haves in your pantry before you begin. Of course, there are also meats, fish, vegetables...
To the kitchen!
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