This is final Asian post on Bite and Booze's World Cup tour so I thought I'd make sure to do it right. South Koreans feel strongly that food should be harmonized with natural spices and that balanced meals during the day are good for the health. Because of their agricultural background and Confucian tradition, Koreans place great importance on proper table settings and table etiquette, and they have special foods for different seasons and for seasonal festivals. A typical Korean meal called "pekpan" consists of rice, the staple of every Korean meal, soup and a great many side dishes, one of which is kimch'i. The sweet sticky rice accompanies every meal and may be plain or seasoned. Soup is also served a lot. Other dishes include seafood, meat or poultry,vegetables, herbs and roots. The food is arranged beautifully on the table, each person getting individual servings of all of the dishes, sometimes as many as 15-20. All of the dishes are served together and you help yourself from each dish using chopsticks or a spoon.
Because Korea has four distinct seasons, fresh vegetables are not always readily available, especially during the winter months. It is this reason that led to the development of kimch'i, which is without a doubt, the most famous of Korean cuisines. Kimch'i is a condiment that is served with every meal. It consists of a uniquely pungent mixture of fermented vegetables and its variations amount to roughly 80 kinds of dishes during any particular season. The fermentation of the different vegetables used, complemented by salted fish and other seasonings, gives it a unique flavor. Kimch'i can be preserved for a long time and was originally put in a clay pot and buried in the fall to allow it to ferment for use throughout the winter months. Its hot and spicy taste is said to stimulate the appetite. It is a nutritious dish, providing vitamins, lactic acid and minerals, otherwise lacking in the winter diet.
Soju is a distilled beverage native to Korea. Most brands of modern soju are made in South Korea. Though traditionally made from rice, most major brands supplement or even replace the rice with other starches such as potato, wheat, barley, sweet potato, or tapioca. Soju is clear in color and typically varies in alcohol content from about 20% to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV), with 20% ABV being most common. Its taste is comparable to vodka, though often slightly sweeter because of the sugars added in the manufacturing process. It is widely consumed, in part, because of its relatively low price. A typical 300mL bottle of soju costs the consumer 1,000 to 3,000 South Korean Won (roughly $1 to $3 United States Dollars). Soju is usually drunk in group gatherings while eating, unmixed and portioned into individual shot glasses. It is against traditional custom in Korea to fill one's own glass. Instead, it must be filled by someone else at the table. This promotes a spirit of thoughtfulness and camaraderie.
For some thoughts on South Korean beer, or the lack thereof, visit the BR Beer Scene.
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