It is no secret that the Philippines is one of the most go-to places for Korean nationals. Korean restaurants and supermarkets are sprouting everywhere and I can't help but think that there is a secret Korean society hidden from my view somewhere. I want to meet one that I can actually talk to. I love Korea and I have to find some time to post about my travel last year that endeared me to everything Korean in the next few days. In the meantime, I want to propose something if you are in Manila - try inviting someone of another nationality and teach you how to cook something from their home country. If you are a local here, try inviting a foreigner who cooks their home dishes well. If you are a foreigner, invite an experienced local to teach you to cook Filipino dishes to take home with you.
My Kind of Korean Food
My first encounter with Korean food in Manila is 9 Pizza 7 Chicken. Once upon a time, 9 Pizza 7 Chicken occupied the same space and location of the infamous YeDang restaurant near Ortigas Metrowalk. The place was always occupied by Koreans (some reserving rooms and singing karaoke) and the food was good. I loved their nutty Korean Sweet & Spicy chicken. It was also where you'll find Bulgogi Pizza and my ever-so favorite, the Sweet Pumpkin Pizza. It was the first time I did not hesitate to eat chicken and I even heard about a different variety of sweeter pumpkin. I remember craving for the pumpkin pizza regularly and dialing delivery without hesitation even if I was by myself (I could finish more than half then save the rest for later). During one of those cravings, we passed by the location and was surprised that it had suddenly closed down. Soon, Yedang occupied the space and we were also there in its first few weeks. They had big servings and the food was our first taste of authentic Korean cooking, aside from the modern pizza and chicken concept of 9 Pizza 7 Chicken. The Yedang back then from the food to the service to the unlimited appetizers was better than the cost-cutting one today but it is still one of the best ones around in terms of taste. The second being Sarambang across the street from Yedang where you can eat grilled Chadol and Samgyeupsal (I only order these there and rice, Yedang has more selection but I love beef so I prefer to eat in Sarambang).
Ever since that fascination with Korean food, I'm always tempted to make my own version and see how I would fare if I followed online recipes. Eating Korean food as it turned out is kind of expensive (except for Sarambang which serves a plate of Chadol for P199 only, minimum of 2 requirement or with a plate of Samgyeupsal for P199 too but we always finish them!). Buying Korean ingredients in cash when you can't even read the labels is also not a good idea. I hurriedly bought some with shorter expiry dates. They come in big sizes too so I sorta wasted my first batch of expensive Korean ingredients. Doing DIY Korean food and liking it to your taste, apparently, is not a good idea. I put a lot of corn syrup on my first batch of Fishcake Appetizer to make it sweet and it was not doing its "job". I gave up and just ate at YeDang again.
When The Expert Came In
The day for second chances presented itself when a Korean was invited to cook in front of us with recipes and all. I have never been to an actual on-the-spot cooking from scratch class before. I was ecstatic from start to finish and I couldn't help taking notes and clicking away.
I even took in all her extra advice when cooking and preparing the ingredients. I love her tidbits of information about cooking in general. My goal is to post these general information that may be useful while you are cooking the same dish (or attempting) and hopefully tickle your taste buds when it comes to Korean food.
Braised Beef Short Ribs
What I learned: She added apple/pear onion puree into the mixture (maybe that's how the short ribs get the sweetness)! Cut the daikon radish into big chunks (they melt in the stew). Layer the veggies and the beef into the pot then boil (don't fret because the flavors are actually balanced). Stir occasionally while simmering over low heat. This soft meat and yummy dish takes a LONG time to marinate and simmer.
What I learned: She uses pancake powder and tempura powder in a 1:1 ratio to make the pancake crunchier (both Beksul brand, no need for eggs because of the pancake powder). Always use cold water to mix the pancake powder and tempura powder (not flakes). Lumps are okay (the consistency will smoothen out once you mix in the veggies). Cut the green scallion into 1 inch strands (they taste great). Don't wash golden mushrooms (mushrooms absorb water, just chop off the end and wipe the dirt so that the flavors will come out). Mix carrots or onions into the batter as you like. Put oil. Cook in medium heat. Turn the pancake only once (it takes a while per side, more than 10 minutes I think). Lower the heat by 1/2 after flipping. Put more oil if needed.
For seafood, place a thin batter only with veggies then place the squid and shrimp on top (do not mix with the batter immediately!). Place another layer of batter on top. Seafood pancakes are thicker than just the veggie ones. They eat Korean pancakes on rainy days with wine. For the sauce, salt and vinegar 1:1 ratio (but I like it saltier like the way she made it. She pickled celery, sayote and jalapenos in the sauce. It was spicy and tasted great (the pancakes and the sauce mixed well)!
What I learned: Choose dried anchovies with a lighter color (usually means it's from Korea, darker ones either come from Malaysia or China). Dried anchovies are not cooked so they have to be sauteed for 4 to 5 minutes to take out the fishy smell from refrigeration when they were shipped here. Add oil little by little until the color of the anchovies change to yellowish and bubbles are forming already (and until they are crunchy). Add green chili and toasted sesame seeds (the fatter ones are the good ones) and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat when adding soy sauce or it will burn. Bring back the heat and add corn syrup (brown is used because it caramelizes better when cooking and not the white one). This dish is eaten at room temperature or cold. It must be eaten within 3 days.
Appetizer: Lotus - My Shock of the Day and Favorite!
What I learned: Fried lotus is the new healthy potato chip. Lotuses are hard to find and a little expensive here. Look for a lighter lotus when cooking. Slice using a mandoline for this dish and soak in water. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to be crispier. They usually add cornstarch if it is not fresh (to make it crispier). This dish is eaten at room temperature or cold. It must be eaten within 3 days.
What I learned: It looks easy and manageable but you need to prepare a little bit of everything. Grate garlic so that the taste will come out. As long as you have the 5 color veggies (a little bit of black, red, green, yellow, um white?) it's good enough for bibimbap. You cook from colorless to color, cook the first 3 by sauteing in oil only separately. She used cooked onions, cooked shiitake mushrooms with salt, cooked carrots with salt, steamed soybeans (then blanched and seasoned) and steamed spinach (then blanched and seasoned). The spinach need to be salty. Heat the stone bowl and put sesame oil always (for stone bowl) for crusting of the rice. Put rice and other toppings one by one. Cook a perfect sunny side up and place it in the middle. The sauce is one-of-a-kind, you actually add soda to the red pepper paste!
Spicy Tofu Seafood Soup
What I learned: You need bigger anchovies and kelp for this one. Do not boil the anchovies for more than 10 minutes or the intestines will start to give out a bitter taste. Korean chili flakes lose some of their spicyness when cooked with oil (homemade chili oil!). She used clams, shrimp and squid for this one. Scoop the tofu into big chunks because you'll crush them when mixing. This was my second favorite - really tasty clam soup. I heard the ingredients are kinda expensive.
Galbi Short Ribs
What I learned: She used premium grade L.A.-style sliced short ribs for this dish (the marbling is key to good meat). It was pre-marinated already so her only tip was not to use oil anymore.
Eating everything was the best part of the afternoon. I guess the next step is to buy the correct ingredients, look at the expiry and begin my fascination to try cooking Korean food in Manila again. Haha. I took pictures of the Korean ingredients too just in case. This experience convinced my little inner chef to try taking that passion for Korean food to the next level.