After eating my way across Seoul, I wanted to be able to bring a taste of Korea home with me. Being able to recreate Korean dishes at my leisure would be the ultimate souvenir.
So I couldn’t miss the chance to try it out with Experience Seoul: Korean Beginner or Intermediate Cooking Class.
Since the extent of my culinary skills usually involves clinging to a recipe book and burning just about everything, I opted for the beginner’s Korean cooking class. I arrived at the building at 10 a.m. and met the other three people in my class. Our instructor, Hyejin, introduced our menu of the day: kimchi and bulgogi, two of Korea’s most well-known dishes.
Our stations were well prepared for beginners, equipped with prepped ingredients and, thankfully, a printed recipe. After washing up and donning our purple aprons, we huddled around Hyejin’s station at the front of the room to learn how to prepare bulgogi. In Korean, “bul” means “fire” and “gogi” means “meat,” which literally makes bulgogi “fire meat.” While bulgogi usually marinates overnight, we would be doing a quick 30-minute marinade for the class.
With the grace of an experienced chef (which she is), Hyejin prepared a rich marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and Asian pear for the thin strips of sirloin.
Although Hyejin made the process look easy, recreating her culinary magic at our own stations was a bit more challenging. Luckily, the instructor and her assistant come around to make sure students are on the right track. I also had friendly classmates to collaborate with, as it seemed we all remembered a different step to preparing the bulgogi.
Once we finished preparing the bulgogi, it was time to watch Heyjin prepare the most iconic of Korean dishes: kimchi. I’d always assumed this was a very difficult side dish to prepare, but Hyejin prepared a beautifully red head of kimchi in less than 10 minutes flat.
As she prepared the kimchi, Hyejin explained that winter is the traditional season for kimchi making in Korea. Families set aside a day, known as “kimjjang,” when they work together to make massive amounts of kimchi for the coming months. During her family’s kimjjang two weeks earlier, Hyejin made more than 50 heads of kimchi. Suddenly, the 1/2 of a cabbage head awaiting us didn’t seem so daunting.
Once Hyejin finished the kimchi, she showed us how to cook the bulgogi. The aroma of the marinated beef was enticing, and thankfully we had a chance to sample Hyejin’s bulgogi and kimchi before preparing our own.
After the appetizer, we got to the messy work of preparing our own kimchi heads. We created a spicy stuffing from radishes, fish paste, red pepper powder and garlic, then slathered the red sauce between cabbage leaves. This was definitely the more difficult of the two recipes, but Hyejin was always nearby to make sure we were on the right track.
After the kimchi was finished, her assistant boxed it up for us so we could take it home. It needed to ferment for a few days before eating, and can last for months in the fridge. As we stir-fried our bulgogi (and yes, I slightly burned mine), Hyejin prepared a Korean pancake with her fresh kimchi, known as kimchi jeon. Once we were finished, our class sat down to a meal of purple rice, kimchi jeon, kimchi and our sizzling bulgogi.
We finished the cooking class with a quick jaunt through Nagwon Market, a traditional Korean marketplace just down the street from the culinary school. Our guide, Chuck, pointed out the various ingredients we used in our recipes, as well as the numerous types of kimchi popular in Korea.
While the tour came to an end here, my classmates and I will be able to recreate Korean cuisine in our own kitchens for years to come. And although I’m still a novice in the kitchen, I have my handy recipe sheet to rely on.
Photos courtesy of Marissa Willman.
Read more: 48 Hours in Seoul
– Marissa Willman