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Cooking traditions connect Korea and Poland

Chefs highlight the gastronomic parallels between the cuisines
May 14,2019
Polish chef Karol Okrasa, executive chef of Platter at the InterContinental Warsaw, right, explains what’s considered Polish cuisine at a cooking class that was part of the 2019 Polish and Korean Cuisine Culture Exchange, which was titled “Grandmother’s Recipes.” [KOREAN FOOD PROMOTION INSTITUTE]
Seonjae Sunim, president of the Korean Food Promotion Institute, right, alongside Ambassador Piotr Ostaszewski of the Republic of Poland in Korea, listen to a speaker at a reception celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries on Monday. [LEE SUN-MIN]
To celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations between Korea and Poland, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Korean Cuisine Culture Center and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Seoul decided that there is no better way to show the similarities between the two countries than through food.

“Who doesn’t like food,” asked Piotr Ostaszewski, ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Korea, during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. He added that people from the two countries generally share a love of pork and fermented vegetables, as well as spices and seasonings. In both countries, having dinner at home together is a sign of respect that opens and builds up communication. Ostaszewski added that the diversity of certain dishes makes them interesting for people from both countries and provides an opportunity to learn about different regions of each nation.

“Just like bulgogi from Daegu is slightly different from the dish in Seoul or elsewhere in Korea, Poland’s cuisine is the same — the same food is different from one region to another,” said the ambassador.

One distinct element of Polish cuisine is using smoke to add flavor, according to chef Karol Okrasa, who is currently the executive chef at Platter, which is located in the Intercontinental Warsaw. To demonstrated the technique, flames and smoke filled the kitchen at the Korean Cuisine Culture Center on Monday as the chef prepared his duck dish, a popular item made from a recipe handed down from his grandmother.

The cooking class, titled “Grandmother’s Recipes,” was part of the 2019 Polish and Korean Cuisine Culture Exchange. Korean chef Shin Chang-ho of Michelin-starred Joo Ok presented dishes as well.

Speaking of dishes that are similar, the Polish chef cited the potato ball soup chef Shin made during the cooking class. The making of the dough for ongsimi, a chewy potato ball, and the ingredients used to make the dough are “exactly the same” as a Polish dish called szare kluski, chef Okrasa said while presenting a chewy potato pancake.

“This event invites chefs trying to find connections between two cultures and I’m making something to make cultures come together,” said Okrasa.

To highlight what’s currently in-season in Korea, chef Shin made a stir-fried glass noodle dish with bamboo shoots and chwinamul, also known as aster leaves. He shared tips with those in attendance — suggesting that people squeeze washed vegetables until they see bubbles coming from them in order to make sure they fully absorb marinades. He also presented soup made with vegetables and potato balls, or ongsimi, a recipe inspired by Seonjae Sunim or monk Seonjae, president of the Korean Food Promotion Institute.

“I hope home-cooked meals become a way for everyone to become more comfortable with one another, and make connections,” said Seonjae Sunim. “The home-cooked style meals bring people back to where they have their memories, where their families and friends are, and where your roots are from. As you eat food, you share what you have experienced and what you have felt.”

The cooking class was followed by lectures from experts hailing from each country: Beata Kang-Bogusz, an official from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Seoul’s Promotion and Public Relations Section went over differences and similarities of the two countries, speaking as a Polish woman married to a Korean. Chefs from Korea and Poland followed, each sharing their personal stories about the dishes they made.

Although the cooking class and the lecture ensemble was a one-time event, more detailed information about Polish cuisine is available at the Korean Cuisine Culture Center with images of food and books in a small exhibition until the end of this month. The exhibition compares food from the two countries in four different categories: preserved or pickled vegetables, fish, pork, and spices or jang (fermented Korean sauces).

The ambassador explained that Poland is in the process of “reinventing” its cuisine after years spent under a communist regime, which made uniformity in food by encouraging people to cultivate only what can be grown quickly and in mass production.

The ambassador added that food culture will continue to change both in Poland and in Korea due to supply and demand, and active cultural exchange could lead both countries to be inspired by each other.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]