I had the pleasure of spending three days in South Korea a few weeks ago, embracing the culture and sampling the fantastic food that this part of the Korean Peninsula has to offer.
The primary reason for the trip was to learn more about Hanwoo (한우, or Hanu) beef. This breed is native to Korea and has been around for 5,000 years, making Hanwoo as much a part of Korean history as the people themselves.
There are four Hanwoo breeds – brown, brindle, black and Jeju black – and the most common is brown. In the past, Hanwoo cattle were mainly used for farming and transport, however, this changed over time, and by the 1960s, the production of Hanwoo for meat-type cattle was in full force.
Hanwoo, a national symbol of Korea, is a food favourite of the people, and they are very proud of it. Maintaining the quality is important, and for the past 60 years, the National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) has been leading the way in research.
Research scientist Sun Jik Sang explained that from 1995, NIAS has become an organisation for animal breeding by law. The Hanwoo gene is controlled at the institute, and calves are only born through artificial insemination (frozen semen is produced through a sanitary system and distributed throughout the country). Because the births are planned, the premium quality can be maintained.
A beef traceability system has also been employed. An individual 12-digit identification number is provided to follow the history of each animal from birth. Butchering, packaging and sales are recorded and managed. Because of this system, it’s impossible to falsify the labels, so customers can acquire accurate information about any Hanwoo beef purchased.
There is an abundance of Korean restaurants in Hong Kong, and I have spent countless nights here enjoying Korean BBQ. However, Hanwoo beef has not been widely exported until the past few years, so there are just a few restaurants that serve it – for instance, Mugung Hanwoo Beef Specialist in SoHo, Central. You can also purchase it to cook at home from shops such as city’super.
I highly recommend trying Hanwoo beef, which is known for its rich texture and dense marbling. The premium grade 1++ is comparable to Japanese Wagyu, but to me, it actually tastes more beefy. The exquisite marbling increases the tenderness and juiciness of the meat.
This trip was heaven. I got to eat copious amounts of delicious beef and drink soju and beer (sometimes combining the two, in the the Korean way) – when in Rome, after all! South Korea itself is a wonderful country with friendly people and a beautiful countryside, and when I return, Hanwoo beef will definitely be on the menu.
Hanwoo Board, the Korean goverment-linked organisation that arranged this trip, plans on raising awareness through marketing campaigns in order to showcase the premium-quality beef. They were meant to be at the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival this year until it was recently cancelled, but they hope to return next year with more events. We will keep you posted.
For more information on Hanwoo beef, click here