One of dishes typical to the Korean cuisine is barbecue. Especially, seasoned beef grilled over a charcoal fire is known to the world as one of the Korean people’s three favourite dishes.
Maekjok, Origin of Korean Barbecue
The Korean roast meat is different from roasted dishes of other countries. The Korean people season meat mainly with garlic and sesame oil before roasting the meat. Such a method of cooking was widely used in the period of Koguryo (277 BC–AD 668). The dish prepared by this method was called maekjok, and it was also known to neighbouring countries.
It is recorded in a Chinese legendary book compiled in the period of the Jin dynasty (265–420) that from ancient times they worshipped maekjok in China, so it was always served at important feasts given by aristocrats or the rich. Maek means the tribe of Ancient Joson who founded the Koguryo dynasty, and maejok means the roast meat prepared by the tribe for their food.
Maekjok is seasoned skewered meat roasted over a fire. For the meat they used beef, pork and poultry, and beef was counted as the best.
Solyajok, Speciality of Koryo
Beef barbecue of Korea further developed in the period of Koryo (918–1392), the successor to Koguryo.
The following is recorded in Haedongjukji, a historical book of Korea: Solyajok has long been a speciality of Kaesong (capital city of Koryo). The method of cooking the dish is as follows: Season the ribs or heart of the cow with oil, garlic, ginger and so on and roast them. When they are half done, put them in cold water for a moment and roast them again over a strong charcoal fire. They are good to eat over the wine on a snow-falling winter night, and they are very soft and tasty.
The word solyajok originated from the meaning that it is roast meat to eat on a snowy winter night. Its cooking method is as follows: Slice beef and tap the meat with the back of a knife to tenderize it. Stick the meat on bamboo spits and season it. When the meat is fully seasoned, roast it over a charcoal fire.
The cooking method further developed with the passage of time. Roast meat is quickly put in water once, and roasted again. The process is repeated three times before spreading cooking oil over the meat and roasting it once more. This makes the meat softer and tastier.
In the period of the feudal Joson dynasty (1392– 1910) not only the cooking method but also the relevant tools developed further. In the 19th century the use of grills to roast meat was introduced across the country. At that time various methods were employed to roast meat, including that of roasting meat on a grill or a spit over a charcoal fire. But there was something common in the methods. It was the way meat was seasoned before roasting. This was the distinctiveness of the Korean-style barbecue.
Tradition of National Cuisine Carried on
It is in a restaurant on the third fl oor of Daesong Department Store in Taedonggang District, Pyongyang that you can eat the most distinctive beef barbecue of Korea. Kim Sok, head cook of the restaurant, is outstanding at preparing beef barbecue, so he is called master cook of beef barbecue by his colleagues and customers. The nickname is associated with his painstaking effort of 30-odd years dedicated to improving the nutritive value of the dish, and making it retain its unique taste.
By using a traditional method of processing the meat of cattle bred by a native method he prepares the dish to retain its unique taste. And he employs various tools such as a slab of stone, a sheet of iron and a grill. He also properly combines different materials and seasonings and spices such as pear juice, ginger juice and pepper powder to make the beefsteak spicier and tastier.
The dish prepared by the head cook fully satisfi es the demand of the customers who say, “Dishes should be good to see and eat and be healthy.”
Ri Yon Hui, a resident in Tongdaewon District, Pyongyang, says, “I was born in Kubinri, Kangdong County, Pyongyang, which is famous for its stockbreeding. So I liked meat, especially beef barbecue, from my childhood. Whenever I feel like having beef barbecue, I come to this restaurant. Beefsteak prepared by Kim is always delicious, and it makes me nostalgic.”
Kim has received a dozen diplomas and medals at a number of cooking festivals and contests by presenting beef and other barbecues. In April Juche 104 (2015) he was awarded the title of Master of Barbecue.
He plans to initiate cooks from across the country, as well as those of his restaurant, into the traditional method of cooking beef barbecue. Now he is striving to diversify and enrich the food culture of his nation.
Article: Choe Sol Mi