The Korean Cultural Centre‘s mission is, in their own words: to enlighten and entertain through quality contemporary and traditional cultural content, in order to strengthen the emotional bond between Australia and Korea. Every year the Office hosts a banquet showcase, and the theme for this year’s showcase was Korean alcohol – what better way to experience Korean culture than via its world-famous brews? I’ll drink to that – wihayeo (위하여 – cheers!).
Date of event: 18/11/2016
Korean Banquet Showcase [Focus – Korean Alcohol] – 2016 Event
As I was invited to the Banquet Showcase, the Usual Disclaimer applies.
Back in 2013, I was treated to a lavish Korean Banquet Showcase featuring a diverse spread of food and drink, some of which I had never heard of before. As a result, I learned to appreciate Korean cuisine more than ever before. You can find my write up of that particular showcase below – worth a read as it’s not a time-bound review, and is recommended for anyone who possesses an interest in this dynamic cuisine.
However, while food is undoubtedly important, it’s not a stretch to say that a meal isn’t complete without Korean alcohol. Sure, you’ve heard of soju – everyone has, and it’s probably reasonable to say that it’s caused its fair share of “oh god, I’m never drinking again” moments – ah, so many broken promises.
But as with most things, there’s much to be learned below the surface, check out the spread below:
The subject matter expert and guest of honour was Julia Mellor, an Australian who’s been living in Korea for nearly a decade, with a laser focus on Korean alcohol. In fact, such is her dedication that she runs a company dedicated to teaching foreigners about Korean alcohol, and consults widely in the Korean brewing industry.
We were given a crash course on the various types of Korean alcohol prior to the meal. What’s interesting is that for the most part, they all begin the same way – via the three ingredients of rice, water, and a yeast starter called nuruk. Regardless of brewing technique or scale, fermentation with rice, water and nuruk will result in a multilayered brew from which the different types of Korean alcohol can be derived:
Cheongju/Yakju – the top layer that is skimmed off the original filtrate. Clear, and generally sporting floral or fruity notes. Often given to royalty and the rich prior to Modern Korea.
Makgeolli – a diluted version of the original filtrate, and is distinguished by its unfiltered nature, which retains sediment resulting in a much thicker texture than other alcohol. The taste is somewhat akin to fizzy yakult or alcoholic calpis – basically a yoghurt drink with alcoholic notes. Really delicious and very easy to drink (5-10% ABV at most).
Takju – basically a makgeolli, but in the context of our banquet, much stronger and with less sediment/carbonation.
Soju – a distilled version of cheongju, and thus with a much higher ABV. Julia believes that no soju should be less than 40% ABV, but I’m so glad that the reality is a lot more varied. I don’t fancy the idea of being acquainted with the toilet seat 😛
Naturally, the various bottles in Julia’s showcase were not just any off-the-shelf brands. For the most part, these bottles were from small-scale Korean manufacturers, with a focus on artisanal craftsmanship and traditional recipes. None use chemical sweeteners, and most can’t even be bought in Australia! Evidently, the boom in craft distilleries is not just limited to gin and whiskey.
While Julia Mellor was effectively the sommelier of the night, the ever-reliable Heather Jeong – cooking instructor for the Korean Cultural Centre held the reins on the food. If you read the first update below, you’ll see that Heather’s got quite the knack for all edibles of a Korean nature.
Surprisingly, the food wasn’t strictly Korean – quite a few Western elements made their way into this particular dinner. I suppose this really emphasised the fact that the focus of this banquet was to showcase Korean alcohol, not Korean food. All good by me – as the food was still tasty and illustrated that it’s not necessary to only pair Korean alcohol with Korean cuisine, it works well with other cuisines too!
To underscore just how big this event was (never mind the initial indication with all the media presences at the dinner), the Korean Consulate General (Sydney office) Sangsoo Yoon was in attendance to give a final speech before toasting to the beginning of the meal – wihayeo!
First up, scallops. Two a piece, freshly grilled, chewy and with a moreish pea mash. These were great by themselves, but also went well with the sansachun cheongju – 100% rice and infused with hawthorn tree berries. According to Julia, the company that makes it is the only large-scale Korean brewery that doesn’t use chemical sweeteners – a trend that while currently prevalent, is thankfully being swept aside in favour of more traditional approaches without artificial additives.
This was a very drinkable rice wine with sweet notes and a balanced alcohol profile – I can see why it was a drink of royals.
One of my favourite carbs in Korean cuisine is jeon – Korean pancakes. There were three varieties served – kimchi, garlic chives, and what I believe is chilli and spring onion [standard/normal jeon is just spring onion with chilli to make it look pretty]. They were all fantastic, and I could hardly pick a winner – as evidenced by the fact that I ate over 10 pieces (oh dear).
The paired alcohol was a Boksoondoga makgeolli, which was hands down the favourite drink of the night. While soju gets all the attention in Australia, Makgeolli is actually up there as one of the, if not the most drunk alcohol in Korea. I can see why – it’s just so easily downed. Sweet, fizzy, slightly acidic, and with only a tinge of alcohol, it’s a drink you could glug all night long. In the case of the showcased brand – you can’t find it outside Korea due to its unpasteurised nature. It’s made entirely by hand (holy moly) and is referred to as “champagne makgeolli” due to its high carbonation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the price was similarly dear.
A very Western dish of prawn & bream-filled pasta made the next course. Over 100kg of prawns went into making that rice wine & prawn bisque, and as a result I could smell it long before I could see it. That alone made the dish – that the pasta was very well executed was just another feather in Heather’s cap.
This was paired with a Gyeryeong 100 days wine, a cheongju that as its name states, is fermented for 100 days before straining – an ancient recipe that’s been passed down for generations, and infused with five-flavour berries (omija), chrysanthemum and azalea flowers.
In all honesty, this one was a bit too strong for me – it was a bit like port but without the sweetness. Not one to drink in volume.
One of my favourite Korean dishes – bossam – was thankfully served. Pork belly with kimchi “san choy bao” is always a winning combination – provided you can handle the heat of the kimchi!
Speaking of heat, this was paired with a Hwayo 41 soju – and yes, this was a soju with a 41% alcohol content. It uses water from a well 150 metres deep and is then aged in ceramic pots to ensure a clean, crisp flavour. This is deadly soju – don’t go playing drinking games with this one.
The last savoury course was also the biggest – a smorgasbord of meats – pork, chicken & octopus w/rice & kimchi. I really had my way with this dish, eating far more than my fair share. It was the best course of the night, and surprisingly the mushrooms were one of the best elements on the plate!
It was paired with a Maeshil Wonju black – a plum wine that’s aged three years before release, infused with large gold plums instead of the green type that most other plum wine manufacturers use. A pleasantly fruity drink, but one that’s still quite heavy on the alcohol hit. By this point, some diners on our table were already getting red-faced!
Point to note: plum wine isn’t made with rice, so this was an exception to the other types of alcohol on show. Totally fine however – plum wine is quite ubiquitous in Korea 🙂
A dessert of pavlova was served alongside a Baekwha Mi-In takju. While I thought it would taste like a dessert wine, what I got instead was a surprisingly powerful hit of alcohol without the accompanying sweetness that would be required to offset the pavlova. As such, I drank the two separately – I felt it was better that way.
While that ended our meal, it certainly didn’t end the night – we were each given a jar of prepared rice/water/nuruk mixture to make our very own makgeolli!
The process was surprisingly simple – all we had to do was stir up the mixture with gloved hands, repeat for the next two days, and then wait just one week for our sweet, sweet alcohol to come out. Apparently, if we decide to ditch the gloves and use our bare hands, the bacteria unique to each of our hands will lend its own “signature” flavour unlike any other makgeolli brew!
While I’m not exactly super keen to try out hand-flavoured makgeolli, I decided to take one for the team and do it anyway. As I had multiple jars, I could establish a control jar as well, just to see if there were any discernible differences with using my bare hands.
After just one week, it’s amazing to see just how much it’s changed! When the mixture begins to show discernible layers, it’s time to filter out the alcohol from the gunk. A stocking is apparently the best way, but we decided to do a double filter – with a normal sieve first to remove the larger remnants, and then through the stocking to get just the liquid. Sediment still gets through, but that’s drinkable anyway.
Julia mentioned that we could get up to 400ml of alcohol from the original batch (and there honestly wasn’t all that much to begin with) – we were pleasantly surprised that such a benchmark was more or less hit – with three jars, we got 1.2 litres of drinkable makgeolli! Score!
In tasting, the makgeolli with “essence of hand” stirring tasted a bit sharper and creamier, but also oddly more alcoholic. The differences were however, minor – a blind taste test and I might not be able to tell which is which. The bigger surprise though? It was very drinkable, quite delicious. I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked as this is literally how the stuff is made, but it’s definitely one thing to buy alcohol, and another to drink a brew you made yourself.
As always, much kudos to the Korean Cultural Centre for inviting me to share another tranche of knowledge about Korean Food Culture. I look forward to what next year’s event brings!
I dined as a guest of the Korean Cultural Centre – all opinions remain my own.
Korean Banquet Showcase [Focus – Korean Food] – 2013 Event
Having no Korean background in growing up meant that my only exposure to Korean food has been in Sydney. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but given that Korean-born Australians are #10 in Sydney demographics, I think my experiences of Korean food (especially in suburbs with a heavy Korean-bias e.g. Strathfield) have been quite true to form.
Then again, I’m ever the novice when it comes to the cuisines of other cultures. An invitation by the Korean Cultural Centre to the Korean Banquet Showcase, for which I delightfully accepted, has shown just how much more there is to food than what is already known.
As I was invited to this event, the usual disclaimer applies.
The Korean royal court in ancient times ate banquets which can be compared to a modern-day degustation. Small courses, a great level of variety, and of course, plenty of banchan (side dishes) to boot. After that night’s experience, I can say that royal officials ate very, very well.
What’s all this for then? The Korean Cultural Centre‘s mission is to bring together the two (very different) cultures of Australia and Korea. In their own words
To enlighten and entertain through quality contemporary and traditional cultural content, in order to strengthen the emotional bond between Australia and Korea.
It comes as no surprise that one of the ways this can be accomplished is through food. For in what culture is dining together not for social exchange?
So yes, authentic Korean food, almost fine-dining level, served over 12 courses with plenty of banchan on the side. What more could you want? Time to dig in!
When I first arrived, I didn’t even notice the venue, or the people, or the gift hampers, or the champagne (more on those later). You know what I did notice? The massive table full of banchan! For those who’ve never had the fortune of trying out Korean food, banchan are small side dishes that are often served with whatever you order. Most Korean restaurants will provide this in unlimited supply, so a common trap to avoid is not to fill up on these quickly!
Then again, why not? They’re all delicious!
I’m not even going to go through all 12 types, because honestly, I’m not well-versed enough and thus am not qualified to run down each dish. Just admire the pictures, and imagine how good they taste.
You didn’t expect a banquet to not have champagne did you? I didn’t drink any, as I am wont to do when given a choice to consume alcohol. I hope it was great for those who had it though 🙂
We couldn’t touch the banchan yet, as those go with the actual meal itself. For now, we were served 3 types of canapes. The above is yeon geun jorim – soy braised lotus root. These are delicious, especially to me, as I’ve grown up with similar methods of eating lotus root in China. It’s a longer braising process that infuses the flavour of the soy into the lotus root, so that each bite is full of flavour, and crunchy texture of the root itself.
What I thought were non-fried spring rolls turned out to be mu ssam – pickled radish w/seafood. They’re smaller than they look, and could be finished in one bite, but take two. Very satisfying, as ingredients in wrap are ought to be.
There was actually another canape – yachae twigim – root vegetable twigim which I forgot to take a picture of, but here’s a picture taken by The Food Diary by CK. Think of it as vegetable tempura, except with a mass of sliced up veggies rather than entire chunks. Makes for a better bite, as there’s more surface area for the deep frying to spread across, resulting in better texture.
After some socialising, and generally admiring the happenings of the night, we finally got seated. Yay! Name tags!
Our rather fancy table, with wine and plum wine ready to go. More on that shot glass later.
The event properly kicks off with a 5 minute solo of the Janggu. Quite fascinating to hear, though it did just accentuate my hunger at the time!
The head chef for the night is Heather Jeong, who is quite well known within Korean/Australian food circles. Something like a celebrity chef? Something like that. I think the Cultural Office’s short bio of her does better justice than my wording of it, so here it is reproduced exactly:
Heather Jeong is a popular food personality in the Korean community as well as in the wider Australian community through her twenty six years as a chef, caterer, cooking teacher and food writer.
Heather is cooking teacher at the Korean Cultural Centre at their highly successful cooking class programme. She also works with Maeve O’Meara of SBS Food Safari as a cooking teacher and guide for Gourmet Safari where guests include groups from AMP, Woolworths and Sanitarium. She is also involved in cooking demonstrations for primary schools, high schools and universities, which includes Sydney Grammar, University of Sydney and NSW University.
Heather contributes regularly for Jenna Yoon hosted SBS Kitchen Conversation. She ahas been featured serveral times in Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and SBS World News. Her recipes have been published in Feast Magazine, Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning herald. She also contributed for Michael Shafran’s Melting Pot as well as Maeve Meara’s Food Safari cookbook.
In the picture above, she is giving a talk about Korean fine dining, how it is spread out and served in small courses, much like a degustation. It’s quite different to how I traditionally perceived Korean – big hotpots, large servings. Time for some of the finer stuff.
Also given was a talk on nurbiani – basically the foundation of Korean BBQ. “Charcoal roasted thin sliced meat w/soy sauce, sugar, pepper, sesame oil, salt, garlic & green onion”. Ok I can’t wait anymore!
Boy was I not surprised to see sparkling water at the table 😀
We can think of hobak juk – pumpkin congee shot as an amuse bouche. It goes down similarly. It’s basically a Korean porridge with steamed pumpkin, glutinous rice flour or water-soaked rice. Creamy is the key texture, but I was still able to make out the pumpkin. Having had similar types of dishes (in amuse bouches, no less), I took an instant liking to it. It’s a fair bit stronger than your average pumpkin soup though.
I was unsure what distinguishes seasonal hwae – Korean style sashimi from Japanese sashimi. The fish used (kingfish, abalone, squid & salmon) are the same, though there were several dipping sauces provided, with each fish going into a different sauce. I wasn’t sure how it all worked out, but nevertheless, the taste was darn fine. Make the fish fresh, provide soy and sashimi just can’t be bad!
Haemul pajeon – seafood pancake is a dish I almost always order when I go out for Korean. It’s usually as large as the plate you see above. Seeing it that small makes me wonder…
Then again, degustation, right? Everything has a smaller portion size. The ultimate result? Leaves me craving for so much more. The seafood pancake presented this night is a bit softer and denser than those I usually have at places like Madang. I don’t really have a preference (it can change). They’re both good in their own way.
For those who haven’t had haemul pajeon before – it’s basically a pancake made from egg batter, wheat flour, rice flour, green onion and various seafood. Often there’s kimchi too. Delicious stuff.
Onto some of the heavier stuff (“mains”?), we have Bossam, where roasted or steamed pork, along with pickled goods is wrapped in a leaf vegetable is served with a condiment such as gochujang (red chilli bean paste). It is appropriately spicy for Korean food (so if you’re intolerant, too bad!), and has both crunchy and meaty textures to it thanks to its composition. If only this was served as banchan…
On the right we have tangpyeongchae, a type of nokdumuk (mung bean jelly) which is mixed w/mung bean sprouts, watercress & stir-fried beef mince, peppers and seasoned w/soy, vinegar, sugar & sesame seeds/oil. For those of Chinese origin, it closely resembles 凉粉 in texture, but has a lighter flavour profile. I’m glad this came in a small portion, because I often fall victim to the carb trap that this dish is, such is its taste!
A genuinely surprising dish for me, the gyerja chae – salad w/mustard dressing is something I’ve never had before. Mustard notes dominate (of course), which goes surprisingly well with the crab and crunchy veggies it covers. Really moreish, but possibly an acquired taste for some.
Now I don’t usually drink…but…
When the event sponsor himself is pouring the drinks for us…how could I resist a few shots of cheongmasijiu (plum wine) and bokbunjaju (raspberry wine)? Just let it happen!
Ah, one of my guilty favourites of Korean cuisine – I was wondering when japchae – stir fried sweet potato noodles w/beef & veggies was going to make its way to our table.
Having had it as a large portion and now a small persion, I prefer japchae as served on a big plate, with plenty to go around. The amount I got at the banquet only served to make me want more, which is just oh so unfortunate. But no fear, for cravings are about to be plugged with…
The banchan! As it turned out, we were allowed to get banchan throughout the entire night, it’s just that nobody thought to do so because nobody saw anyone else going for it. As such, we only got it when the meal is starting to end! Never mind that though – I was still insanely hungry (did you just see how small the portions were beforehand?). Luckily, this is where delicious side dishes fill the gap.
Never go wrong with banchan. Never.
I’ve been warned that bul dak – fire chicken, when consumed in large quantities can be very, very bad for your digestive system. Never mind that, when I had it, I knew I had to have more. Next time I go Korean, I need to find a place that serves this. One of the best ways to cook chicken. Absolutely sensational for my spice-biased palatte.
Below the bul dak is the previously-mentioned nurbiani. By the time it was served to us, it was already lukewarm, which is unfortunate. I know how good this can taste though.
Rounding off the savoury dishes for the night is Makguksu – buckwheat noodles in chilled broth. It’s often seasoned with sugar, mustard, sesame oil or vinegar. It’s a specialty of Gangwon & Chuncheon – the southern provinces of South Korea.
For me, this is an acquired taste – I’m not a fan of cold soups in general. I did find it very refreshing though, so I’ll pay that. Most of the table found it quite nice, so I’m pretty sure that this is just me.
Ddeok are rice cakes made with glutinous rice flour (aka chapssal) through steaming. There are too many varieties to list, though common varieties include mung bean, red bean and Korean mugword pastes. Dried fruits, sesame seads also make appearances.
The ones presented to us are mostly glutinous, with a red bean filling, served with two slices of pear. Served with sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch), it’s a nice way to finish off the banquet.
Wow, what a meal. If the KCO’s mission is to expand cultural relations, they’ve definitely taken one step further by sharing the intricacies of traditional Korean cuisine. I’m sure that I speak for most people when I say that we all learned quite a bit more about Korean food, no?
Being the generous people they are, the KCO also gave each person a hamper package! Wicked! Many thanks 🙂
A generous thank you to the Korean Cultural Centre for inviting me to the banquet. Check these guys out!
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀