Cicchetti

ljEYyViv277.jpg Cicchetti means small plates of food, or drinks of wine, and Serafina’s little cousin is looking like a huge hit in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood.

Serafina’s has been an Eastlake staple for nearly 20 years, serving a wonderful variety of Italian lunches, dinners, and late-night snacks. Most nights, you’ll wait for a table or a spot at the bar.

CicchettiCeiling.jpgA visit to Cicchetti did not disappoint. With two levels, a downstairs bar and tables, and an upper loft providing some great views toward downtown Seattle, the wood beams, parchment-like lanterns and sconces, and casual tables, evoke the feeling of cafes throughout Italy and much of Europe.

Be advised that parking in that neighborhood is a bear. We lucked out after only one trip around the block, but you might be well advised to find parking a couple of miles away, then grab a cab.

And then there’s the food. While decidedly Italian, there are hints of Spain, Portugal, and Greece on the menu. The menu consists of a selection of cold and hot plates, ten cold and fifteen hot choices on our first visit, as well as a selection of four sweets to end your meal. The wine, liquor, and cocktail menu is one of the best I’ve seen anywhere. It runs to about 10 pages, and has just about anything anyone might want in a libation.

CicchettiView.jpgWe settled in on a Tuesday night, which turned out to be a good choice because we were seated immediately upstairs – our choice – and were lucky enough to snag the two-top at the window with a downtown view. I’m told on weekends that it’s nutso in the place, which of course adds to the atmosphere.

CicchettiOctopus.jpgWe started with a couple of cold plates; Gale chose a Tunisian spicy carrot salad with harissa for $4. This was amazing, but you might want to eat this last because the harissa is so spicy that it can numb your taste buds for anything that follows. I opted for the octopus with salsa verde and chickpeas, $7 (photo right). This one was also excellent. If I was going to find any fault, it might be that it was a little light on the octopus. I’d guess an ounce, and two or three ounces of our squiggly little friends would be more to my liking.

For our hot plates, Gale chose the salt cod fritters with Piquillo peppers, $6; tasty balls of cod fish, and I went with Portuguese baked clams with spicy sausage, $11. There were a couple of dozen small, moist and perfectly cooked clams in their own broth, flavored with the sausage and herbs giving the dish an almost a bacon quality. I called for some bread to soak up the liquid. Bread is not gratis, but some great focaccia is only a couple of bucks.

The other dish we shared was the Basque potato fries with romesco dipping sauce, $6. This was the least of the plates we had. The potatoes were tasty with a paprika-like dusting for flavor, but the romesco sauce was too thick for dipping. It could use a thinner consistency for that purpose.

We enjoyed a terrific bottle of a Washington State red wine for $28, and at the end of the meal settled for an after dinner drink rather than a heavy dessert; Gale opting for her beloved Campari, and I chose a Cappellano Barolo Chinato, a digestivi of Barolo infused with a variety of herbs that, while having a medicinal quality, I find very enjoyable.

All in all, Cicchetti looks like a great spot to enjoy food, wine, and great friends. We’ll definitely make a return visit.

Cicchetti – 121 East Boston (right behind Serafina with the entrance on Boston) Seattle, WA 98102 206-859-4155. Bar open Tues – Sat 5 PM to 2 AM; Kitchen Tues – Thurs 5 PM to midnight, and Fri/Sat until 1 AM. Reservations not required, but will be accepted for parties of 6 or more.

La Isla

La Isla

La Isla in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is an amazingly well kept secret that shouldn’t be. Don’t get me wrong, they are knocking it out of the ballpark most nights, but I’m amazed how few people know we have a Puerto Rican restaurant in Seattle; the only one I know of, and possibly the only one in the state.

Puerto Rico is composed of an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands, the largest of which are ViequesCulebra, and Mona. The main island of Puerto Rico is the smallest by land area and second smallest by population among the four Greater Antilles, which also include CubaHispaniola, and Jamaica.

It’s part of the United States, sort of, as a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the U.S., yet most Americans know little or nothing about the island, except for those on the east coast where many of the folks from the island live.  On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris.

There are over 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. (more than live on the island), and they represent the second largest group of hispanics in the country. Yes, like President Obama, they are citizens whether born here or in Puerto Rico. Okay, enough with the history lesson. You can find lots more on the Internet. Let’s talk food.

La Isla started out as Sofrito (that’s a popular condiment made with onion, garlic, red and green peppers, oil, recao leaves, and spices ). The partnership dissolved, Sofrito moved on with the departing partner, and La Isla was born. Now in business for five years, and with a great new bar added in mid-2009, La Isla is a total experience.

Sofrito sauce

Puerto Rican food, as you might expect, is a blend of indigenous foods (Taíno Indians), the Spaniards who conquered the island, and the importation of slaves from Africa. Other influences came from Dutch, French, Italian, and Chinese immigrants, producing a variety of food that’s both flavorful, and colorful.

At La Isla, there’s a list of Antojitos that include; Empanadillas, a doughy turnover filled with your choice of; Carne Molida –seasoned all natural ground beef simmered in sofrito and tomato sauce; Pollo –  a delicious mixture of tender pulled chicken, potatoes olives and capers; Vegetariana – a slow-cooked, savory veggie and tofu mix (even meat lovers will enjoy this); Pernil – pulled pork, marinated for days and slow-cooked overnight; Papa – sautéed onions and garlic are mashed with a potato and mozzarella filling; Queso – a simple yet satisfying favorite of mozzarella cheese; or Camarones – baby shrimp in a veggie mix slowly simmered in tomato sauce. Once filled, the empanadilla is fried to perfection and served with ajilimojili (an extremely delicious creamy garlic sauce)   $3.99 each.

More antojitos:

  • MEDLEY DE PLATANOS – a mix of 3 tostones (smashed green plantains) and 5 maduros (ripened, sliced plantains) served with mojito sauce$4.99
  • ALCAPURRIAS – green banana, taro root and plantain dough filled with either ground beef or veggie mix, deep fried and served with pique (a mild hot sauce)$5.99
  • BACALAITOS (a personal favorite) – shredded salted cod fish made in a batter mix with cilantro and achiote; fried up and served as a fritter along side our ajilimojili sauce$7.99
  • GANDULES DIP – scrumptious blend of onions, garlic, red peppers, green pigeon peas, olive oil, vinegar and spices. served with five 5 tostones cups (smashed and fried plantains)$6.99
  • CAMARONES – 7 jumbo butterfly prawns sautéed in olive oil, white wine, and butter served with your choice of three sauces: Al Ajillo – garlic lovers dream come true! comes with rice and avocado; Isla de Fuego – a mango-pineapple minto salsa; A la Criolla – a red Creole sauce with some kick. $10.99

There are several more antojitos as well as a selection of soup and salad. A personal favorite in the soup is Asopao de Mariscos – a delicious traditional  and filling rice soup made with salmon, camarones, potatoes, capers, olives, and sofrito; small $4.99 … regular $7.99

There are three sandwiches (emparedados), pulled pork (pernil), steak, and chicken. These come with a slice of avocado and tostones. Tostones are a staple in the Puerto Rican food. You won’t find bread or tortillas, you’ll find tostones, flattened and fried rounds of plantain. Sandwiches are all $7.49.

Pastelon with tostones, rice, and beans

There’s a long list of entrees, including Pernil; Pez Gato (friend catfish); Carne or Pollo Guisado (slow cooked in sofrito flavored stew with olives, capers, and potatoes; salmon seasoned in lemon, oil, and garlic; two versions of chuletas (pork chops); chicken breast; skirt steak, and a selection of camarones prepared with different sauces (entree versions of the appetizers). These are all in the $15 range, give or take a buck.

Rounding out the vittles are four desserts; a wonderful flan $3.99; Tembleque – a creamy coconut custard sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg $3.99; Guayabitas Vivian – a warm torte with sweet guava filling and a cream cheese top, served with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with cinnamon $5.99; Tres Leches – sponge cake made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream topped with a light frosting, whipped cream, sliced strawberries and ice cream$5.99

You can wash this all down with your choice of beer, wine, or soft drinks, and a marvelous selection of rums and cocktails. If you’ve never had Puerto Rican food, you really owe it to yourself to check out La Isla, and if you have had PR food, now you know where to get some more.

La Isla – 2320 NW Market Street Seattle, Washington 98107 | 206.789.0516

Open every day from 11:30 AM to 2:00 AM

Enza Cucina Siciliana

The crew: Photos by Ronald Holden, Cornichon.org

Enza is back with the passion for, and the elegance of Italian food that marked the opening of the original Sorrentino several years ago, before they lost their way. The new Enza Cucina Siciliana opened on January 7, 2010.

Serving seven nights a week. Happy Hour drinks ($4 wine, well drinks, and specialty cocktails) available from 3 to 6 PM and again from 9 PM to closing.

What happened to the old place over a couple of years is hard to say, but the good news is that the space has been remodeled into more of a comfortable and welcoming trattoria you might find in Italy, complete with a large table of antipasti that screams of all the great food of Italy. On any given night, you’ll find prosciutto, mortadella, roasted eggplant sliced thin, roasted cauliflower, a potato and ham torta/tortilla, roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms, speck, and a host of other wonderful starters that have made Italian food famous. For $10, you step up to the table and choose the items you want – don’t pass up anything. A word about etiquette, this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. The $10 gets you one trip to the bar, not multiple trips. Try not to ruin it for everyone else.

When you sit down, you’re likely to be greeted with what the French call an amuse bouche, a bite-size hors d’oeuvre. On a recent visit, it was a tasty crostini with a spinach and olive oil pesto topping. It’s a great reason to have a cocktail before you begin your meal.

The menu: Photos by Ronald Holden, Cornichon.org

The stars of the show are the fresh menu that will change every month or so, but keeping some of the more popular items on from the previous menu. One of the dishes that will likely make it to the next menu is the Gamberoni e Cozze con Tagliatelle al Nero di Seppia – a long name for squid ink pasta with prawns and mussels in a lemon-scented tomato sauce. This is presented in a Saran-wrap like bag that brings all the flavors together as it steams its way to your table. Once there, you can eat out of the bag, dump it on the plate, or the server may do that for you. This Mediterranean treat is only $12.

Other items currently on the special sheet; Melanzana Ripiena, eggplant stuffed with rigatoni pasta in a fresh tomato sauce with ricotta, parmesan, and basil, $12; Gnocchetti di Pane e Salame, handmade gnocchi using their homemade bread and imported salami in a sauce of arugula pesto and raisins, $12; Spaghettoni al Vino Cotto, homemade pasta (they all are) in a reduction of cinnamon-scented grape must, topped with crumbled Amaretti, slivered almonds, and orange zest, $12; Calamari Ripieni, local calamari baked with a stuffing of orzo pasta, anchovies, tomatoes, garlic, and toasted bread crumbs, $14; and rounding out the current specials, Vongole con Zucca, Manila clams sauteed in white wine with yellow squash, onions, garlic, and parsley, $12.

There’s a special soup currently on the menu, the Crema di Limone con Pollo, a lemon-accented cream of chicken soup, $4 for a cup, and $7 for a bowl. You may be noticing a theme here; it’s hard to spend more than $12 on an entree, and if you’re watching your spending, you can have a cup of soup, an entree, a glass of wine, and be out of there for around $25 per person; that’s the way the Italian trattoria works. It’s great food at affordable prices for the average Italian, and now Americans.

As an example, on a recent evening, my wife and I each had a cocktail, shared a plate of the antipasti, enjoyed an entree each, a bottle of nice red wine, and a limoncello for dessert, and our tab was $97 plus tip – not bad for two people who are given to over indulging. Without naming names, I can tell you that a similar meal in several local Italian eateries would have set us back more like $115 plus the tip.

The standard menu has been pared down; you won’t find pizza on it any more. Nothing wrong with pizza, but everyone is making that, and this is not a pizzeria, it’s an Italian restaurant. On the standard menu, you’ll find several pastas; Lasagna Bolognese – 8 layers of homemade pasta with a rich tomato/meat sauce, a silky bechamel, and parmesan cheese for $12; Gnocchi Gorgonzola, handmade potato/ricotta dumplings in a vibrant blue cheese sauce, $12; Spaghetti and meatballs in a robust tomato sauce, $12; Spaghetti Carbonara – think bacon and eggs – this sauce made of egg and pancetta is marvelous, $12; Rigatoni Pesto, served beautifully with a backdrop of red cabbage, and a zesty pesto of arugula, garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts, $10. There’s a small dinner salad for $4.

There’s a nice selection of house wines by the glass, or $28 a bottle, with other wines available for a couple of dollars more. The bar has been set up by Andrea Mercadante, Enza’s long time friend, and bar manager from Palermo.

The chef: Photos by Ronald Holden, Cornichon.org

Francesco Troiano, chef, holds forth in the kitchen, under the watchful eye of Enza, of course, while Nello Pallone from Positano serves in the dining room. Eating at Enza’s is like being invited to her house for dinner, the food reflecting the influence of her life in Sicily and a prolonged stint in Morocco.

There’s live music on Saturday nights, so do yourself a favor and pop in to the new Enza Cucina Siciliana and enjoy!

Enza Cucina Siciliana

2128 Queen Anne Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109

206-694-0055 or send email to: Enza@EnzaSeattle.com


Reading The Menu

This might better be labeled reading and pronouncing menu items. I suspect for some people, perhaps many people, they shy away from trying new dishes simply because they feel they’ll embarrass themselves trying to pronounce foreign words, and that’s a shame.

While I’m certainly not a linguist – I don’t even speak a second language – I’ve picked up a little pronunciation along the way, so let my try to give you a tip or two. My first tip, don’t ever be reticent to ask your server for help with the names on the menu. They will be happy to help.

Mondello Ristorante Menu - click to enlarge

Since Italian may be my all-time favorite cuisine, I’ll start there. The first rule – almost every word in Italian breaks down into 2 or 3-letter syllables, and you pronounce everything. For example, spaghetti – spa ghet ti. We all know that one because we’ve been saying it since we were kids. We may have started out saying basghetti, but we eventually got it right. That’s an excellent example of one of the rules in Italian, in spaGHETti, you have a g & h preceding a vowel. That always has the sound of a hard G – as in get. this also applies to the letter C – example: Chelate, a word used in English, is pronounce kee-late.

The G & C also have a hard sound when followed by a, o, or u. Examples, casa, gatto, guitar. But, put an i or e after a C or G, and it becomes a soft sound, such as ciao and gelato, words most of us are familiar with.

Vowels in Italian are carefully pronounced. ‘A’ sounds like mama or papa, not as we use it in cat. The letter E is called open in words like bello or cello, where the sound is longer. In other uses, it’s closed, or shorter, as in sera (buona sera meaning good evening). The letter ‘I’ always sounds like an English long E. Italian is ee-tal-yun, not eye-tal-yun. The letter O is also open and closed; open – otto (that’s oh-toe) and nostro. The closed, or clipped O is like note (no-tay), giorno (jorn-oh), and amore (ah-mor-ay). The letter sound is the same, just not dragged out.

A couple of other little tricky letter combinations, but when you see commonly used words, hopefully it will be clear. ‘gn’ gets a sort of ‘nyuh’ sound, as in lasagne or signore (or canyon in English). The other combination is ‘gli’ that comes off kind of like ‘ly-ee’ as in figlio, or tagliatelli (tal-yee-atell-ee).

There are a couple more, but this is enough to keep everyone confused. One other point, the emphasis is usually on the next to last syllable, but there are a few exceptions. Here are some common words on Italian menus with a phonetic pronunciation.

  1. sandwich – panino (pa-neen’-oh)
  2. french fries – patate fritte (pah-tat’-eh freet’-teh)
  3. omelette – frittata (free-taht’-ta)
  4. soup – zuppa (zoo’-pah)
  5. shrimp – gambero or gamberi (gham’-bear-oh, gham’-bear-ee)
  6. green salad – insalata verde (een-sal-ah’-ta ver’-deh)
  7. meat – carne (car’-neh)
  8. veal – vitello (vee-tell’-oh)
  9. beef – manzo (mahn’-zoh)
  10. pork – maiale (my-ee-al’-eh)
  11. lamb – agnello (ahn’-yellow)
  12. sausage – salsiccia (sal-see’-chia)
  13. a chop – cotoletta (ko-toe-let’-toe)
  14. mushroom – funghi (foon’-ghee)
  15. fish – pesce (pesh’-eh)
  16. spaghetti (spa-get’-tee)

Okay, you get the idea, I hope. If you want to learn more about pronunciation in Italian, here’s a good site – AskOxford – and there are many sites on the Internet that can help you venture into new and exciting dining experiences.

Get out there and have some Italian food and try out your pronunciation.


Ocho Spanish Tapa

Ocho is certainly not the first tapas bar in Seattle, nor the biggest, but it may be one of the busiest, and it’s definitely a big hit in Ballard.
Ocho

Ocho Tapas Bar - Photo by M. Davis

Reminiscent of Matt’s old place in the Pike Place Market, Ocho has been a hit from day one, and there’s no sign of it abating any time soon.

Not having yet visited Spain, I can’t attest to the authenticity of this tapas bar, but I have the very real sense that you would find small spots like this tucked into neighborhoods all over Spain, jammed with people enjoying great food and wine or cocktails; there’s something infectious about the atmosphere, the food, and the drinks – you want to stay all night, and many do.

La tapa, meaning savories or finger-food, has a long history in Spain. Several legends attempt to explain the beginnings of tapas, but it’s main purpose is to tide you over until dinner, and likely started with farm workers who took small snacks into the fields to eat while working. In the United States, it has become a way of eating, and likely a much healthier approach than sitting down and eating enough for a family of four (all by yourself) in one seating. Regardless, it’s a great way to while away a couple of hours at places like Ocho, sipping a glass of wine, and munching your way through the menu.

Co-owners Zach Harjo (one-time bartender at La Carta de Oaxaca) and Gelsey Hanson appear to have hit one out of the park with this place. Ocho, as mentioned, is small, so be prepared to get close to people, ala European style. The bar seats 10 or 11 people, and the tables on two walls might accommodate another 20 or so, assuming they’re really good friends, and all this simply adds to the atmosphere of share camaraderie.

menu

Photo from Ocho website

A chalkboard menu lists about 20 dishes, changing at the whim of the chef, Colby Chambers, who most recently worked at Canlis. An example of what you might find on the board are, of course, olives, almonds, and Boquerones – Spanish white anchovies for $3. Don’t be put off, these aren’t the salty little brown fish out of a can, but more like little fresh herring.

anchovy

Boquerones en vinagre - photo by Kent Wang

A selection of cheeses for $6, a Tortilla Espanola – think quiche, for $2, Pa amb Tomaquet – olive oil toast with garlic tomato and

Mahon cheese, $2. Try a Croquetas Barrachas – fried goat cheese with a roasted pepper almond sauce, $4; Alcachofas – fried artichoke hearts with lemon zest artichoke allioli, $3; or Seared sea scallop with English pea puree, jamon Serrano, and lemon vinaigrette, $9.

Other typical tapas are Chorizo con Limon, Patatas Bravas, Bisteca, and of course the world famous Jamon Serrano, cured Spanish ham.

In Spain, and much of the Mediterranean and Europe, you simply don’t drink without some food, and you don’t eat without some wine. At Ocho, you can choose from a nice list of wines, Spain and Portugal of course, with prices ranging from $5 to $10 a glass, and bottles from $18 to $56. Now that’s a wine list meant to be enjoyed, not break the bank.

If you haven’t tried sherry, and you want to finish your experience with a touch of sweetness, there are four sherries, a Moscatell, and a port, for $5 – $8. This isn’t your Bristol Cream sherry, but the real thing. The Spaniards and Portuguese take pride in their sherries.

There are four drafts, and a half-dozen bottled beers, and a selection of cocktails for $8 – $10. There are three sangrias, white, red, and familia (uses pear brandy), El Picador – vodka or gin, Maraschino, cucumber, rosemary, and a skewered beet; San Miguel, gin, St. Germain, and rhubarb bitters; La Hora Verde – an herbal vodka infusion; Death in the Afternoon – La Hora Verde with a Cave Rose; Dark & Stormy – a rum drink with ginger beer; and the Ten Dollar Margarita made with El Tesoro Anejo tequila (the good stuff).

If you’ve never been to a tapas bar, you owe yourself a treat, and to experience what it must be like in Spain, you should check out Ocho.

24th & Market in Ballard 4pm-2am daily: Now Serving Brunch Saturday and Sunday, 11am-2pm: 206.784.0699

Nuttin’ Toulouse

Born in early November, 2009, Toulouse Petit is one of Seattle’s newest members of the dining community. A cousin of Pesos Mexican/Southwest food next door (same owner) Toulouse is a fairly spicy French Cajun (think New Orleans) themed menu with a decidedly French feel to the decor.



Towering windows look out on Queen Anne Avenue, and lots of carved wood, a gazillion tiles on the floor, some creative chandeliers overhead, along with what must be a thousand candles around the place – seems to be owner Brian Hutmacher’s signature since there are lots in Pesos as well (bet the staff hates them) – create a warm and inviting venue for a cool, wet, Seattle winter day.

The menus; there are a bunch of them; a bar menu, happy hour menu, and the regular dining menu as well as wine, cocktails, and dessert menu, offer a varied selection of food to sample and libations to wash it all down.

Happy hours are popping up like temperature sensors in a Christmas turkey around Seattle these days, and Toulouse has a nice one. Their HH menu is divided by price; a nice touch for sorting out your level of tolerance.

For $4, you pick from a Bibb & Arugula Salad, Pate, Chicken & Duck Liver Terrine, house-made Cajun Boudin Blanc Sausage, or Fried Chicken Bites with Tasso-Black Pepper Gravy.

At $5, there’s steak tartare, fried alligator (do we really need to eat these critters?), a beet salad, a frisee salad with poached egg, two variations on shrimp, tuna tartare, shrimp bisque, and the inevitable but tasty French onion soup.

Stepping up to $6, more shrimp, gumbo, oysters, pork belly, and lamb’s tongue. $7 will get you fried green tomatoes, mussels, and a variety of oyster offerings (presumably more, or bigger, or fancier than their cheaper cousins at $6). $7 will also get you a seafood gumbo (the other one was chicken), smoked trout salad, duck confit salad, duck and pork rillettes, and foie gras.

At varying prices, but all under $7, are beef, lamb, or sausage sliders, pommes frites (French fries), sides of pommes frites with aioli or a veal pan sauce, pureed potatoes, corn grits, cauliflower au gratin, corn & tasso macque choux, grilled asparagus, haricot verts (green beans), or red beans and rice.

Happy hour is from 4 to 6:30, and again from 10 to midnight – you can get steak frites for $14, prime rib eye, either normal or blackened for $17, and you can add a veal-shallot pan sauce for an extra $3.

All of this in larger portions, and more, is available on the regular dining menu, including such items as blackened Louisiana red fish,jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, mussels al mariniere, oysters Bienneville (big name in New Orleans), as well as daily seafood specials like seared halibut with savoy cabbage, or black cod Metairie (a town in LA) Vietnamese-style. Entrées run anywhere from around $10 upward to the low 30s for filet with fois gras.

All-in-all, the menu is ambitious, and while it wasn’t possible to try everything on the menu, every effort was expended to give it the old college try. Most of what we had was quite good, though a couple of dishes were really heavy on the salt.

There’s a nice selection of wines, divided by wine style, with from one to three or four offerings by the glass, 1/3, 2/3, and full bottle prices in each wine category. The dessert menu has bread pudding, a flourless torte, pear tart, beignets, a pecan tart, and bananas Foster, all for $6 – $8.

It was tempting to compare this with Bastille, but that’s not fair. Bastille tries to be more French, where Cajun means a blend of French, Germans, English, Native American, Creoles, Africans, and Mexicans.

If you love experiencing food, and one assumes you do if you’re reading this and live in the Seattle area, Toulouse Petit is definitely worth a try. You can splurge and spends lots on a special evening, or graze on some smaller plates and have a great time without need a bailout from the Feds.


Korean Cuisine

What most of us know about Korea is that we fought a war over there; North Korea seems to cause a lot of trouble; and they eat this stinky vegetable dish called Kimchi.

A peninsula, Korea’s climate is much like that of the upper Midwest in the United States – warm summers and cold snowy winters. A country of micro climates created by a diverse terrain of mountains, valleys, and seacoasts, the food of Korea reflects that diversity.

Until the 20th century, Korea was a largely a rural and farming society. Farmers worked hard, and the heartiness of their food is quite different from neighboring China and Japan. Rather than just a bowl of rice for breakfast, Koreans might have a rich soup made of either beef ribs or pork intestines (tripe). A typical breakfast might be Doenjang soup (soybean soup vegetables), cooked rice, kimchi, bean sprout side dish, spinach side dish, steamed egg, roasted small fish..etc.

Fish is a large part of the Korean diet. Those from the Yellow Sea differ from the Eastern Sea (Sea of Japan) and the south coast (East China Sea) differs from the others. Koreans seek out the specialties of each region.

The European conquest of the Americas brought the hot chili to the world. Chile pastes are absolute staples of all Korean tables and cooking.

A typical Korean meal is called Pansang, with steamed rice, soup, and side dishes (banchan). Examples of banchan are pickled cabbage – Kimchi; Korean Potato Salad; Seasoned Seaweed – Japchae; Glass noodles – Kongnamul: Soybean sprouts – Gaji namul: Eggplant dish – Gyeranjjim: Steamed egg dish – and Sigeumchi namul: Spinach dish.

Changkuksang is the main dish and is arranged with kimchi, cold greens, mixed vegetables, pan-fried dishes, confectionary, fruit and fruit punch. Typical main dishes are;Gamjatang – pork bone stew with potatoes and vegetables;Samgyeopsal gui – grilled pork belly; Tangsuyuk (or tang soo yook, tang su yook, tang soo yuk, tang su yuk, tangsooyook, tangsooyuk; many words have different spellings) – sweet & sour beef (or pork); Maeuntang – spicy fish soup;Galbi jjim – beef short ribs; Mandu – dumplings; or Bulgogi – barbecued beef and kimchi fried rice.

Beef was banned by the Buddhist ruling class of the Goryeo period. The Mongols dispensed with the ban of beef during the 13th century and promoted the production of beef cattle. Beef is now the most prized of all meats, with cattle holding an important cultural role in the Korean home. At one time, the cattle were regarded as servants and seen as an equal to human servants. Cattle were given their own holiday during the first ‘cow’ day of the lunar New Year. The variety of foods in Korea is immense, and tasty.

A Chuangsang meal involves alcohol (chu) and side dishes (an) that are matched to the alcohol being served. Soju is the best-known liquor, but there are well over 100 different alcoholic beverages such as beers, rice and fruit wines, and liquors produced in South Korea. Soju, at around 22% ABV is a favorite beverage of poor college students, hard-drinking businessmen, and blue-collar workers.

Koreans eat a wide variety of vegetables, often served uncooked in salads or pickles, and cooked in various stews, stir-fried dishes, and other hot dishes. Vegetables include daikon, Napa cabbage, cucumber, potato, sweet potato, spinach, scallions, garlic, chili peppers, seaweed, zucchini, mushrooms, and lotus root. Wild greens, known collectively as chwinamul (such as Aster scaber), are a popular dish, and wild vegetables like bracken fern shoots (gosari) or Korean bellflower root (doraji) are eaten in season. Medicinal herbs such as ginseng,wolfberry, Codonopsis pilosula, and Angelica sinensis are often used as ingredients in cooking.

From ancient times, Koreans have used a spoon and chopsticks are their eating utensils. The spoon was for scooping steamed rice, soup and stew, while chopsticks were used to eat a variety of prepared side dishes. Koreans are trained to use the spoon and the chopsticks correctly from childhood. Using both of these utensils at the same time is considered bad manners.

If would not be difficult to go on for pages about the variety and history of Korean food, so if you’r curious about more, check out the links below.

I can tell you from personal experience that if you like spice, you can find some wonderfully hot dishes in Korean restaurants.

For more info: Korean Restaurant Guide; About Korean Food; Maangchi; Visit Korea; Koamart;pbs.org-hiddenkorea