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Classic Korean dishes delight Zimbabwean foodies.

His Excellency Cho Jaidel of the Republic of Korea, shares the harmonious flavours of national dish bibimbap with Zimbabweans and visiting dignitaries.

AN invitation to attend the Korean food festival at the ambassador’s residence in Steppes Road recently, was an opportunity to experience traditional Korean cuisine, learn something of Korean culture, and to experience warm-hearted hospitality second to none. After a cordial reception from H. E. Mr Cho Jaichel and his wife, we were offered a variety of welcome drinks, including makgeolli, a traditional Korean rice wine.

Milky white in appearance and tasting sweet and sour, makgeolli is 6% alcohol, and has a hidden kick. I sipped this as we checked out displays showing the development of agriculture in Korea, and traditional table settings for marriages and first birthday parties.
Special dishes represented the seasons – a hot pot of seafood, meat and vegetables cooked over hot charcoals in winter, and cold noodles in cold stock for the hot summers.

In his welcome address, the ambassador spoke of Zimbabwe’s rich cultural heritage, and the value that both Koreans and Zimbabweans place upon unity and harmony. He spoke about the devastation following the Korean war from 1950 to 1953, and the miraculous post-war development that saw South Korea transformed from being the recipient of development assistance to becoming a significant donor and contributor to international aid. Describing Zimbabwe as being ‘in the process of transition’, he spoke of his desire ‘to see Zimbabwe prosper’ and to ‘share the development experience of the Republic of Korea with our Zimbabwean friends.’

The theme of harmony continued with the tasting of Korean dishes prepared by three professors of cuisine, Cha Gyunghee, Kim Suin, and Do Hyunwook, all visiting from Jeonju, the city of cuisine and flavours, named by Unesco as the city of gastronomy. Guests gathered excitedly around a giant vat of bibimbap, a Korean dish of steamed rice, meat and vegetables, symbolising by the mixing of different ingredients a harmonious world regardless of race, region or background.

This one bowl wonder must have at least five different colour toppings on the rice, not only to look beautiful,but also for the health benefits; Korean life expectancy is 80 years. Toppings can be mushrooms, shredded cucumbers, carrot sticks, sliced courgettes, bean sprouts and daikon radish. Mixed with raw egg and gochujang, a sweet and spicy chilli paste, the combination of different foods is said to bring balance to the body. What looks good, tastes good, and in no time the bibimbap was finished, and we turned our attention to a buffet of more Korean delicacies.

Korean cuisine professors prepare to mix giant Bibimbap at Korean food festival.

Gimbap, seaweed rice rolls with colourful ingredients were served alongside a variety of fermented and pickled vegetables know as kimchi. Although similar to sushi, the gimbap is made with rice tempered with sesame oil, rather than with vinegar. A staple in Korean cuisine, kimchi is crunchy and delicious, and a great side dish.

Delicious aromas wafted over from the braai, where Bulgogi (thin slices of meat marinated in soy sauce) were being prepared, alongside delicious galbi (short ribs).

A variety of desserts and sweets followed, beautifully prepared, and each one a work of art. Songpyeon, or half-moon shaped rice cakes, traditionally eaten during the Korean autumn harvest festival, are stuffed with fillings such as sweet potatoes, red beans or nuts.

Although the bar offered a variety of drinks, makgeolli, once considered a rustic drink for farmers, proved popular, pairing well with the flavours of all the dishes. Not all that different in appearance and taste from mahewu, makgeolli is considered to be a healthy form of alcohol. Popular with the elderly because of its lactic acid bacteria and dietary fibre content, it’s also a favourite with young women, because of its low alcohol content. Since Wolhyang, a 40 seater makgeolli bar opened in Seoul, this ‘yoghurt for adults’ has become a fashionable drink.

Closeness to family and community are values Zimbabweans share with Korean culture, in addition to developing farming skills and the necessity for self sufficiency. The era of smart farming in Zimbabwe, with the use of drones, helicopters and robots, may be closer than we imagine. After a bowl of bibimbap and a glass of makgeolli, anything seems possible. – A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff