Korean Affair

A typical Korean meal comes with many appetizers
Learning about Korean culture through food

As more Koreans live and work in Johor Baru, our city is also experiencing a Korean Wave.  The International Women’s Association Johor Baru (IWA JB) has a number of Korean members and for their June activity these members were assigned the task to organize an event for members to better appreciate the Korean culture.  Food is a great way to get to know a culture, so the event dubbed the Korean Affair, was arranged at a popular Korean restaurant in the city.

Members sign-in on arrival at Korea Family Restaurant
From as early as 11am, some 35 members and guests met for their June Coffee Morning at Korea Family Restaurant in Jalan Sri Pelangi, Taman Pelangi.  The restaurant, run by Kim Sun A and her husband, Lee Jun Min, has been serving a menu of authentic Korean cuisine in Johor Baru for the last 4 years.  

Working closely with the IWA Korean members, Kim presented a range of appetizers with favourites like fresh Kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables), Bim Bim Bap (Korean stone-pot rice), Tteokbokki (Korean braised rice cake), Panjeon (Korean pancake) and Bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef), to introduce Korean cuisine to the IWA JB members.

Lisa Lee looking elegant in
her traditional Hanbok
On their arrival, the members were welcomed by Lisa Lee, a Korean IWA JB member and the event hostess, and they could not help admiring her Hanbok, the elegant traditional Korean costume she wore.  Lee’s hanbok, made of special spun silk, is 10 years old but it looked as good as new.  Members who were curious about the costume, quizzed her about it and Lee graciously explained the traditions of wearing it, including demonstrating the skills of tying the kwan sai or ribbon in front.

Following the welcome address from Carol Tsang, the IWA JB Vice-President, Lee briefly introduced the Do’s and Don’ts in Korean dining etiquette before the members savoured the sumptuous meal.  Lee said their customs are very similar to that of the Chinese and Japanese, in that it was courteous to wait for the elders to start the meal before the younger generation could eat.  Unlike other cultures where people talk over a meal, she said that Koreans traditionally dine with minimal talk and any talking was reserved until after the meal.

Speaking in English, Lee, whose husband has a Traditional Chinese Medicine practice in Johor Baru, emphasized that the Korean tradition in using the rice bowl is opposite to that of the Chinese. 

Lisa Lee [Left] demonstrating Korean dining etiquette
While the Chinese way is to lift the bowl to their faces, the Koreans consider it bad manners and traditionally eat with the bowl on the table.  She also advised that chopsticks should be laid on the table when not in use and should not be stuck in the bowl because it was the practice for funerals!

She said when serving tea, it is polite to serve others first before pouring for yourself.  If senior family members or older people offered you wine, it is courteous to accept the offer.  Lee said that the Korean way to drink it is by turning sideways before sipping the wine.

Pam Harris skillfully using Korean
stainless steel flat chopsticks
“I usually do better with wooden chopsticks,” said Pam Harris from Texas, United States, as she gingerly picked up a morsel of food with a pair of stainless steel flat chopsticks.  Korean chopsticks that are flat and narrow with a smooth surface were certainly a challenge for many users as it was difficult to get a firm grip.  Instead of asking for a fork, she persevered and used the chopsticks to enjoy her Korean meal.

Although Kathy George, from the United Kingdom, was comfortable with using chopsticks, she admitted that her chopsticks occasionally got crossed.  She must be the veteran chopsticks user among the non-Asian ladies because she learnt to use them in Hong Kong when she was aged 10.  It was helpful that the Korean chopsticks set came with a long-handled spoon that made eating the meal less challenging.

Helen Smale tasting a piece of Tteok

Tteokbokki (Korean braised rice cake) is traditionally more of a snack than a meal and even as the sauce was spicy, non-Asian members found its sweet, short burning sensation rather agreeable.  Rice cakes are a tradition in any Korean celebration and the Tteok served here was made with a blend of white rice and glutinous rice flour with sandwiched layers of pumpkin and Korean mugwort puree.  As the members got better acquainted with Korean food and culture, they also watched a demo to make kimchi pancake by Kim and many asked her about the ingredients as they were keen to try it out at home.

Established in May 1999 the IWA is a non-profit charity organization involved with fund-raising social events and contributes towards healthcare, education and other social needs in Johor Baru.  The members are represented by an eclectic group from Australia, Belgium, Barbados, Finland, Germany, India, Korea, Netherlands, England, Scotland, the United States, Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia.  Women from the international community in JB are invited to join IWA and queries should be sent to email: iwa.johorbahru.m@gmail.com

Kim Sun A of Korea Family Restaurant [Left] demonstrating
the making of Panjeon or kimchi pancake

Korean dry-tossed potato starch noodles
Tteok [pronounced "tok"] is a Korean rice cake
Bim Bim Bap is Korean stone-pot rice with
the mixed version [Background] in spicy flavour
[Note the empty plate of spicy sauce at Top Right!]
[From Left] Helen Smale, Pam Harris, Carol Tsang with Kathy George [Right]

Korea Family Restaurant is located at No. 185, Jalan Sri Pelangi, 80400 Johor Baru.  For reservations, telephone: 607 - 331 4276.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 11 June 2012

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