Unique ingredients – doen-jang (soybean paste), gochu-jang (red chili paste), gan-jang (soysauce) as well as various combinations of sesame oil, garlic, and chilli (fresh, flaked or powdered), hint at the robust seasoning of many Korean dishes. No Korean meal would be complete without kimchi, the fermented condiment. Wine has to contend with strong flavours – though not all dishes are spicy. Royal cuisine is seldom spicy; North Korean dishes feature lots of meat whilst Temple food is herbal and sans meat.
Bulgogi can be made from different parts of the cow. Marinated in soy, garlic, brown sugar, wine and nashi pear, and BBQ-ued, the beef is enjoyed when wrapped in a lettuce leaf with some raw chilli and garlic. The taste is sharp, savoury, smoky and beefy so reach for a generic Cab-Merlot, or better, a southern Italian Primitivo with light tannins yet with concentrated berry flavours.
With Bimbimbap, the delicious mixture of rice, beef, vegetables, garlic, sweet soy and sesame, augmented with some pepper and chilli paste, serve a characterful, fruity, full-bodied Carmenere or a chilled Viognier.
Fish, served thinly sliced and raw with a spicy Gochu-jang is called Domi and goes with lightly sweet Vouvray Moelleux or Moscato. If pan-fried with salt or in batter (Chonyu) fish finds its match with a creamy, vanilla-tasting Chardonnay.
With Vermicelli noodles (Japchae) of beef and vegetables including dried black mushrooms, onions, carrots, scallions, bell pepper, garlic, sesame oil, and soy, the taste is nutty, savoury, and sweet at the same time. Pair with a chilled sweet wine such as Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, or a late harvest wine.
Bosintang or nureongi dog meat, slowly simmered with vegetables and then seasoned in a doen-jang soup with garlic, ginger, onion, herbs, perilla seed oil, and hot pepper, is complex tasting. When meat substitutes of lamb, goat, donkey or ox are used, the dish shows its best with a fruity yet strong tasting wine such as Grand cru Bordeaux, the favourite wine of Kim Jong Il.
Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”