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Pinoy and Korean cuisine are more similar than you think

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 02, 2021 5:00 am

After the first enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was announced in March of 2020, I thought it was time to delve into the world of Korean dramas, since I finally had a couple of weeks to dedicate to watching one show. As it turned out, I needed just 48 hours (and very little sleep) to finish Crash Landing on You.

After that, I fully immersed myself in the K-drama world and even came up with a K-drama review show on my YouTube channel. Along with that journey, my interest in Korean cuisine was piqued, and I started making cooking videos of Korean dishes as well.

 Crash Landing On You has some of the most delicious-looking food. Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin enjoy the Korean fave combination of chicken and beer. Photo from Netflix

Different but same

Since I was reviewing K-dramas and the food that came with it, I was recently interviewed by the Korean Cultural Center on why Korean food is so popular in the Philippines. The natural answer would be that the rise in popularity of K-dramas and Korean pop music contributed to the rise in popularity of Korean cuisine.

While that is definitely a huge reason, I personally don’t think it is the only one. In my journey of studying and cooking Korean dishes, I’ve learned that Korean and Filipino cuisines actually are a lot alike. That means it’s actually easy for Filipinos to love Korean cuisine because it’s so familiar.

Just how similar are these two cuisines?

Well, steamed rice is a staple for all three meals, which is already a huge similarity. Then, both cuisines rely less on fresh herbs and more on fermented items to develop deep flavors.

While Korean cuisine has fermented pastes like gochujang and doenjang, Filipino cuisine uses fermented ingredients like buro and miso. A lot of Korean stews are also enhanced with fish sauce and salted fish, or shrimp. If that sounds familiar to Filipinos, it’s because we have our own patis and bagoong, or guinamos.

Finally, both cuisines appreciate adding sweetness in a lot of savory dishes to balance out what could be overwhelming salty, spicy or sour flavors.

On the table

Realizing these philosophical similarities, I began to look at individual dishes, finding quite a number of Korean dishes that are almost doppelgängers of our favorite Filipino dishes.

A K-drama food favorite, galbi jjim, is quite similar to a Filipino favorite we call pares. Beef is stewed until it’s tender in a broth that’s flavored in soy sauce and sugar. Probably the only difference between the two dishes would be that galbi jjim has vegetables like carrots and radishes, while we flavor our pares with star anise.

 Galbi jjim may be Korean but Filipinos embrace it.

Meanwhile, the Korean favorite tangsuyuk, featured heavily in the K-drama Wok of Love, is their version of sweet-and-sour pork and for us Filipinos, we enjoy those Chinese-inspired sweet-and-sour flavors on fried fish with our escabecheng isda.

 Tangsuyuk, featured heavily in Wok of Love, is the Korean version of sweet-and- sour pork.

 Escabeche is just like the Korean tangsuyuk.

In the K-drama mega-hit Descendants of the Sun, the main characters craved samgyetang while being stationed in the fictional Baltic country Uruk. It’s a chicken soup with flavors of pepper, fish sauce and onions spiked with ginseng. The chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice, making it a complete, healthful and filling meal.

A few years ago, I got to travel to Quezon province and I was taught how to make a classic Filipino dish called delinong manok, which was historically cooked for the family for pamamanhikan when couples intend to get married. That dish also features chicken stuffed with glutinous rice cooked in a broth with flavors of onions, pepper and fish sauce. The similarities are striking and, believe me, both dishes are absolutely delicious. 

In the K-drama classic Full House, japchae was an important dish and it easily looks like our own sotanghon guisado. While the Korean version is more sweet-salty and ours is more salty-sour, the textural experiences are almost identical with the transparent, chewy noodles paired with carrots and mushrooms.

Sotanghon Salad

In my new book The Gospel of Food, I share my Sotanghon Salad recipe. While this recipe is Filipino through and through, the way it’s made, and the way it’s served lukewarm or room temperature, is similar to japchae.

 My Sotanghon Salad evokes Filipino and Korean sensibilities.

If you want to try it at home, all you need are 100 g of dried sotanghon (you could use japchae noodles, too), 150 g of shelled suahe shrimp, about one medium-sized carrot, one red bell pepper, and 12-16 oyster mushrooms. Make sure to slice all the vegetables into thin strips.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, you need 1/2 cup coconut vinegar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 6 siling labuyo, sliced thinly, some cilantro leaves for garnish plus salt, and pepper.

To make the dish, combine soy sauce, vinegar, oil, half of the siling labuyo and sugar in a bowl to make the dressing. Then, pour hot water on the sotanghon noodles to soften them. After they soften, drain the noodles and toss them in the sauce to let them marinate.

In a sauté pan, stir-fry the carrots, peppers, shrimps and mushrooms until cooked. Toss them with the marinated noodles and garnish with cilantro and siling labuyo. It’ll be a crowd pleaser, I promise.  

The food that binds

It’s ironic that in the age of the internet and social media, people seem to be more divided than ever, but I think there’s a lesson for us here that food is trying to tell us. On the surface, Korean and Filipino food seem to be so different, yet a closer look reveals just how similar they are, and the same goes for all of us. We all want the same things and we enjoy very similar foods, too. It’s good to remind ourselves of that from time to time.