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Korea's fermented food culture travels to Qatar

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Seen above is crushed 'meju,' fermented soybean brick, being taken out of a traditional earthenware pot. The wet mashed lumps of meju turn into 'doenjang' (soybean paste), while the remaining liquid can be made into 'ganjang' (soy sauce). Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Seen above is crushed 'meju,' fermented soybean brick, being taken out of a traditional earthenware pot. The wet mashed lumps of meju turn into 'doenjang' (soybean paste), while the remaining liquid can be made into 'ganjang' (soy sauce). Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Park Han-sol

Much of traditional Korean cuisine ― from stews, stir-fries and side dishes to dipping sauces ― starts with an ingredient called "meju." A brick-shaped, fermented block of soybeans that have been boiled, mashed and dried, it is the magic ingredient behind iconic Korean condiments known as "jang."

Food culture involving jang and kimchi ― two stars of traditional Korean fermentation methods for cooking ― will travel to Qatar this week.

The 2022 Korean Fermented Food Festival is set to showcase an exhibition, lecture, tasting session, cooking class and competition offering chances to experience the country's distinct food culture all in one place.

Co-hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Korean Food Promotion Institute, the event will run from Oct. 3 to 5 at Qatar University in the capital city of Doha.

One program that stands out is the Seoul-based Institute of Traditional Korean Food's exhibition of 55 types of fermented delicacies introducing the three main jangs of Korea: "doenjang" (soybean paste), "ganjang" (soy sauce) and "gochujang" (red pepper paste).

A combination of meju and saltwater left to ferment for several months in a traditional earthenware pot can birth both doenjang, made with the wet mashed lumps, and ganjang, made with the remaining liquid. And if meju is instead mixed with red chili powder, glutinous rice, barley malt, barley syrup and salt, it transforms into gochujang.

Also on view will be kimchi-themed dishes and fusion cuisine bringing together elements of Qatari and Korean culinary traditions.

"With hallyu (Korean wave) at high tide, the festival will be a special chance to reach out to the local students and introduce them to the world of Korea's fermentation practices," the institute stated, adding that the three-day food event will collaborate with Qatar University's South Korean Club student organization.


Park Han-sol hansolp@koreatimes.co.kr


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