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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vegetarian Dining in Korea!

I'm just back from a gastronomic experience--I threw the challenge of "vegetarian" at my Korean hosts and they came up trumps! In fact, it would have been a vegan delight--I only wish I had a better memory for the names of all the dishes they served.

"Authentic Korean" to tell you the truth, aroused a little trepidation. I set out expecting to have nothing more than some tofu and greens and maybe some rice (after verifying that it was not cooked in a meat broth) with the inevitable khimchi of which I am told there are hundreds of varieties.

They ushered the few vegetarians in the group to a table at the end of the long room, where we sat crosslegged and were served in the customary style by long-skirted Korean hostesses. After a generous pot of rice wine (which must be vigorously stirred before it is ladled out into earthen bowls) that apparently is more potent than it looks or tastes. The jolly group of Slavs to our left got jollier as the evening wore on, helped by the rice wine and a local drink known as Baekseju or the "100 years wine" made from, I am told, rice, ginseng and many other roots and herbs. It's quite delicious and goes very well with the spicy vegetables that we were served.

And that was quite an array. We started off with a platter of mushrooms, followed by a spicy capsicum and chilli dish, cold glassy noodles and sprouts of different kinds, soybean curd, a savoury mungbean pancake and a mixture of barley and rice cooked in a segment of bamboo served with a spicy vegetable sauce (bibimpap). True, the meat-eaters among us had all of this and more--a variety of seafood, for instance--but for my palate, this was plenty.

The meal was rounded off by a cold pink drink made of sweet potato that was unexpectedly refreshing--I say unexpectedly because in India the sweet potato dishes I know are quite starchy (but still delicious).


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