Banchan is the fabulous Korean tradition of small side dishes, of which perhaps no other culture is so famous for. Served alongside rice for thousands of years, the number of dishes served at a meal was a metric for social status and prosperity.
The Korean love of kimchi, or pickles and fermented foods, really shines through in the endless array of varieties, of which there are hundreds, and those are just the officially famous ones. The concept of kimchi is limited only by imagination, and the number of ingredients both domestic and foreign that Korean chefs can get their hands on. Fermenting foods may have been a necessity to survive the long, cold Korean winters in ages past, but it’s also incredibly delicious.
I suppose I could have gone full royal court and made 12 sides, but I thought that just a humble 6 would be a good start, and decent tribute to the long history of kimchi in Korea.
So today. . . or over 4-5 days more accurately. . . we’ll be transforming this…
and then we can make this!
a delicious bibimbap, or Korean Rice Bowl. But first we have a lot of pickling and fermenting to do. So let’s get started. (Feel free to scale these recipes up or down)
Here in this classic dish we have two essential elements of Japanese coming together: Soy and the Sea.
I couldn’t say I did any historical Japanese cooking if I didn’t make something with Dashi, the ubiquitous broth of dried seaweed and smoked fish flakes that’s essential to so many dishes. The unique flavor of Dashi is said to be that of the Sea itself.
And tofu, originally invented in China, was a vital source of protein for Buddhist monks abstaining from meat, but of course other people enjoyed it too. Tofu gets such a bad rap these days, but when its treated simply, fried up perfectly to be crispy on the outside and creamy within, it’s really tasty!
Both of those things come together simply and deliciously in Agedashi Tofu, a dish still popular today but some version of which must have been eaten for many centuries in Japan. Shallow fried tofu in Dashi, or “ocean stock” if you like, garnished with some nice veggies.
Sushi represents the ultimate and most definitive attempt in the long history of Japanese cooks distilling good food to its purest essence. It represents the quest to make a single, perfect bite. Fresh fish. . . perfectly cooked sweet and sticky rice. . . a little dab of soy sauce. I’m inclined to think they succeeded.
It’s true that chefs spend lifetimes mastering the art of Sushi making, but what most people don’t know is that it’s actually not intimidating at all to make a simple, more relaxed version at home. I’d even go so far to say that Sushi is easy to make. It’s just difficult to MASTER.
Before we get to rolling, let’s give what we’re making today context with a brief the history of sushi in Japanese cuisine. . .
What does it mean for one culture to “steal” from another? How often does it happen? Is it a bad thing when it does? Listen to explore those questions and more, as we visit the Far East once again, this time even farther east. . . to Japan and Korea.
Also known. . . by myself at least, as the lands of umami and kimchi.
It’s almost Anthrochef’s 2 year anniversary. And to celebrate, we’re starting a recipe that will take 2 years to fully cook! That’s right, we’re fermenting some soy sauce from scratch.
I can think of few better examples of the power of human cultural tradition then something like soy sauce. Honestly, who first decided to make a soy and wheat dough, let it get moldy, dry it out, then let it ferment in brine for 2 years before consuming what resulted as a foodstuff??
It’s remarkable that people figured this out.
This recipe is a couple weeks of actual work, and then indeed a very long 1-2 year waiting period for the sauce to fully age (Full disclosure, this post is actually just part 1…) . It’s worth it though. Homemade soy sauce has an earthy, umami rich flavor that’s hard to locate in a store, even in the best Asian markets.
It will be a little scary eating this moldy soy dough brine when all is through, but we have a few elements on our side to battle any bad bacteria. Sunlight is key to the soy sauce fermentation process and also good at killing off bad microbes. Also, using charcoal as a weight should soak up some impurities from the water. Finally, when we strain this out a year from now, we’re going to boil before serving, one last measure of food safety before consuming this potent, delicious sauce.
What makes humans special? What makes us rise above all the other animals across the planet, to discover and make great things? Before you answer with the obvious, ” our big brains and intelligence”, take a listen to this episode, for the surprising truth behind humanity’s success.
In short, it’s not smarts that drive us, but our rituals, myths, and superstitions. We find evidence for this in society’s all across the planet, but one place shows it better than any other. Come with me back to the far east, as we take a tour through the cities and restaurants of Medieval China, to explore the true power of our culture and traditions.