Like clockwork, the weather gods high above the skies of Seoul have decided to switch the season over from autumn to winter. You can see your breath in the air, girls have buried their oversized sweaters beneath their oversized coats and pumpkin spice lattes have been replaced by their peppermint and gingerbread-flavoured cousins. And for Korean food, this means one amazing thing. Our favourite season has come: soup and stew season!
Photo credit: Wild Junket
Much like the snowflakes that are to come, no two Korean stews or soups are the same, combining different meats, seafood, vegetables and soup bases. Though, they can fall into two broad categories: the subtle, and the spicy. (Some so gratuitously spicy that the eater can begin to openly weep in front of a date that had been going, like super-well, before they ordered.)
While we love the spicy Korean soups, like the slew of kimchi based stews, there is something to be said for the subtlety of flavours, when chilli pepper is off the menu. Without spice to cover the quieter flavours, Korean chefs are able produce bowls of soup that will bring grown adults to their knees.
Hungover? Trying to forget that the temperature is dipping? Just plain want some comfort food? Kalbi tang is the answer. Perhaps, always the answer.
Beef broth is paired with braised beef short-ribs, thin glass noodles and topped with chopped spring onions to create a meaty, salty, rich soup that's perfect for the upcoming winter months. While it is often offered with a bowl of plain rice, the soup alone is quite filling. Kalbi tang strikes a perfect balance between the salty nature of beef and the sort of natural sweetness originating from the red dates in the soup and the marinade flavours from the short ribs.
And, as it is Korean dining, the customer will be almost overwhelmed with delicious side dishes, apart from the obligatory variety of kimchis. The best partner for kalbi tang is Korean spicy romaine salad, echoing the balance between natural hints of sweetness, salt and spice. It is difficult not to fill up on the salad, alone.
If you are still hungry because you may have tried to "share" with a ravenous friend, Korean steamed dumplings are an amazing complement to the subtle flavours of this soup. Steamed dumplings filled with pork and vegetables, served with vinegar soy sauce, make for a delicious starter or closer to the meal.