Vegan jelly with fishy smell: Gonyak 곤약

Vegan sushi (chobab 초밥) made with thin slices of gonyak.

Now, what is this? 😶
You might wonder.

This is a jelly produced from the root of a plant scientifically called Amorphophallus konjac, the Korean name for it is gonyak (곤약).

It smells a bit fishy, the texture is chewy, squeaky, almost rubber-like… maybe close to squid…🦑 But, this is no regular sushi topping! 🍣

It is perhaps more common in Japanese foods, where it is referred to as konnyaku (菎蒻). In Korea, I’ve seen it added to stews or stir-fries, because it can absorb the flavor of the surrounding sauce pretty well. It can also be used as a thickener in desserts or as low-calorie, low-carb replacement for noodles. It’s totally vegan, gluten free and simply fun to eat. 😆 *squeak*

If you are curious to try this ingredient during your cooking adventures, simply look for it in your local supermarket! It is sold in various shapes, ranging from a block of jelly to fine noodles! 🍲

Another fun fact:
In some Asian countries, they produce fruit jellies which are made using gonyak instead of gelatin as a thickener. Simply check the ingredient list on the packaging – if you find the words “곤약” or “gelling agent E425”, it refers to gonyak. 📃 Gelatin on the other hand is labeled as “젤라틴” or “E441”.

Until I learned about gonyak, I was having trouble finding a decent alternative to the common gelatin jelly. I tried numerous jelly variations (using agar-agar, pectin, carageenan, potato starch etc. as gelling agents) but the texture was simply lacking… They were either too soft, too watery or melted too quickly. 😞 Gonyak, though, creates an even more stable jelly-consistency while remaining juicy nevertheless.😋

[Now I wonder what gummiebears made from gonyak would be like! 😏]

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Ambassador of K-food: Kimchi 김치

Outside Korea, kimchi is perhaps the best known dish of Korean food and it is gaining popularity in the Western world surfing the wave of #healthfood.

Various types of kimchi sold in a grocery store.

But did you know that in Korea, kimchi is most of the times not vegan or vegetarian?
Among the many ingredients of kimchi, there is usually something called jeot (젓) / jeotgal (젓갈) – fermented 🐟fish sauce or fermented tiny 🦐shrimp, occasionally other kinds of 🦀seafood. Unless you carefully examine kimchi and manage to identify tiny black dots as the eyes of tiny shrimp, this key ingredient remains hidden most of the time. 👀

Beside the distinct savory flavor (#umami #감칠맛), which many Koreans appreciate in their food, jeotgal adds proteins and minerals to the vegetable dish. While its nutritional value certainly contributes to kimchi being labelled as a super food nowadays, this is certainly not the only reason why kimchi is traditionally served with every meal and appreciated for its positive effect on the health of your digestive system.

There are countless varieties of kimchi, differing not only by the vegetable starring as the main feature of this side dish, e.g. cabbage, cucumber and radish. Basically, kimchi can be produced from all kinds of vegetables by salting, then seasoning and lastly fermenting them. Overall, there are numerous methods, types of kimchi as well as ingredients constituting the sauce. On top of that, each family possesses their own recipe for making kimchi. The diversity of kimchi is accordingly sheer endless.

As a rule of thumb:
Regular kimchi contains jeotgal.
There are only a few classic varieties which it is normally not added to: those of the ‘water kimchi’ type (mul kimchi 물김치), in which the vegetables are literally swimming in the pickling brine, as well as the white version of napa cabbage kimchi (baek kimchi 백김치). However, most frequently served as complimentary side dishes are the napa cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi 배추김치) or kimchi made from cubes of radish (ggakdugi 깍두기). Occasionally, also these are made without jeotgal, or they may contain it in such small amounts, that a sensitive nose can hardly discern its fishy traces.

Two kinds of fish sauce sold in plastic bottles in a supermarket.

Whenever I asked restaurant staff to confirm whether they put jeotgal into their kimchi, the answer was either yes or they didn’t know. I always wondered whether that’s because they are afraid of giving away their secret recipe or because really nobody except for the old lady working in the kitchen who has produced kimchi for the entire family all her life really knows! 🙃

Anyways. If you want to be 100% sure about what you’re eating, bear in mind that kimchi is most likely not vegan.

Let’s start exploring…

Food painting #001. Material: Tofu, chili paste, brown rice, kimchi, Chinese yam, seaweed, sesame seeds.

FOOD.
Food is big in Korea.
Food looks beautiful in Korea.
Foodies will love eating in Korea.

But it can be difficult to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet in Korea.

After years of living in Korea, I’ve decided to share some of my experience, hoping it will provide an orientation for people in a similar situation. The world of food is complex, it is exciting, full of new impressions, scents, visuals, textures and flavors. However, it can be confusing and frustrating, if you cannot read the labels or do not speak enough Korean to communicate your dietary preferences.

Although South Korean society seems to be changing rapidly in various areas, people with certain dietary lifestyles (such as veganism, vegetarianism, raw food, pescetarianism, halal, kosher etc.) are still rare.

Thus, let me offer you some ideas. With the upcoming posts, I aim to introduce you to the basics of Korean food, make practical suggestions for a satisfying food hunt and introduce you to veggie-friendly locations for dining out.

My posts will be launched on Instagram first, where they are primarily pictures! (Because… who doesn’t like #foodporn? 😆) However, you will find longer descriptions and more details about the respective topic in this blog.

Helpful words

  • chaesik ju-eui-ja 채식주의자 – vegetarian 🥕
  • wanjeon chaesik ju-eui-ja / bigeon 완전채식주위가 / 비건 – vegan 🥕🥦
  • gogi 고기 – meat🥩
  • saengseon 생선 生鮮 – fish🐟
  • haesanmul 해산물 海産物 – seafood🦐
  • yujepum 유제품 – dairy🥛🧀
  • gyeran 계란 – egg🥚🍳
  • ggul 꿀 – honey🐝🍯

Simple phrases

  • Chaesik ju-eui-ja yeyo. 채식주의자예요. I am a vegetarian. 🥕
  • Chaesik haeyo. 채식해요. I eat vegetarian food. 🥕
  • Jeoneun gogi, saengseon ina haesanmul mot meogeoyo. 저는 고기, 생선이나 해산물 못먹어요. I cannot eat meat, fish or seafood. 🚫🥩🐟🦐
  • Jeoneun yujepum, gyeran ina ggul mot meogeoyo. 저는 유제품, 계란이나 꿀 못먹어요. I cannot eat dairy, egg or honey. 🚫🥛🧀🥚🍳🐝🍯

and… very important for Korean food culture:

  • Jal meok-gessimnida! 잘 먹겠습니다. I will eat well. (said BEFORE the beginning of the meal. Similar to the French “Bon appetit” or German “Guten Appetit”.)
  • Jal meo-geossimnida! 잘 먹었습니다. I have eaten well. (said AFTER the meal.)

And after all, I’d like to end this post with the following statement:

Please, enjoy your food! 😊❤
Masikke deuseyo~ 맛있게 드세요 ~