Want to eat like a Korean? Mei Chin shares some favourite ingredients and shops.
They are Oscar winners, pop stars and can battle a zombie wearing a fabulous hat. Koreans are some of the most bad-ass, best looking people in the world. Maybe their secret is their diet.
Korean Soon Doo Boo. Photo: Dan Jones.
Korea has been called the Ireland of Asia, because its people are friendly, have been colonised for centuries, and love to party until dawn. These days people worldwide are enamored with the “K” -- in cinema, art, fashion, tech, cosmetics and TV. In the culinary world, ethnically Korean superstars like Roy Choi, David Chang, Corey Lee, and Danny Bowien have given way to young, mind-bending Korean chefs working in Seoul and beyond. Here in Ireland, young people watch the zombie series Kingdom and have replaced bubble tea with Samyang spicy 2X ramen.
Korean banchan. Photo: Blanca Valencia
Much of Korean flavour involves a duet between sweet-hot gochu, (capiscum chili pepper) which colours food crimson, and the umami funk of anchovies, briny baby shrimp, and fermented soybean paste doenjang. Lest we not forget, there is kimchi, that heavenly pickle that is the undisputed queen of Korean tables. While most of us know kimchi as cabbage, kimchi can be anything – watercress, radish, fruit. Koreans believe that kimchi can solve everything, from heart attacks to skin conditions and general ennui. Also kimjiang -- the annual, national practice of making kimchi in November -- was declared a Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013.
Below, find where to get your myeon (noodles) your beef for your bulgogi, your three “jangs” (aka sauces) – gochujang, doenjang, and ssamjang, and where to score the very best instant Korean ramen/ramyun. Also, full disclosure, this list is still a work in progress. All the shops are Dublin based because as of this writing, we could not find any suppliers who were not. If you know of any other shops and ingredients, please let us know!
1. Asia Market
Asia Market is not owned or staffed by Koreans, but many Koreans swear by this shop because they like the variety -- of not just Korean, but other foods. As you enter the market and pass the fruit display (maybe grab an Asian pear for your kimchi or dessert), the shelf to your left is dedicated to Korean and Japanese products. Korean comes before the Japanese. Here is where you have your sauces. The Korean holy trinity comprises of a gochujang (hot pepper paste in a red container), doenjang (fermented bean paste in a brown container) and ssamjang (a combination of the above but sweetened, mixed with spices, and is in the green box). In the frozen section, find pre-sliced sashimi, ideal for Korean hweh. The refrigerated section to the right is more confusing because there are different countries’ products scrambled together. However, you can find different brands of kimchi, dried anchovies and the jars of brined shrimp that give many Korean dishes (including kimchi) its funk. Also in the fresh noodle section you will often find Korean ttuk, or the sliced, chewy sliced rice dumplings. In the frozen dumpling section you can find two or three brands of mandu, or Korean dumplings.
Still, things can be hit or miss. Gochugaru (chili powder) comes in kilo sacks. (That is a lot of chili powder). In the dried noodle section, you can find the Korean sweet potato dangmyeon noodles that are crucial to the dish japchae (slippery transparent noodles tossed with beef, vegetables and spiked with sesame oil), but you will have to hunt for it among the Chinese dan-dan noodles and the Japanese udon. Towards the back of the shop, in the ramen section, you will find a crazy-good Korean selection, only it is not specifically labeled as such. Look for the NongShim brand and then you know you’ve come to the right place.
Lastly, Asia Market is the only store mentioned on this list that is licensed to sell alcohol, which means makgeolli (sparkling rice wine traditionally served in metal cups) and soju. What is soju? Some call it Korean vodka. It is fragrant, slightly sweet, has echoes of rice and a definite kick. Anthony Bourdain once said he wanted to pour it on his cornflakes. You will want a shot before belting out Bibi during karaoke.
18 Drury St, Dublin 2, D02 W017. asiamarket.ie
2. Oriental Emporium
Oriental Emporium is Chinese owned, but it is convenient, especially for those who do not want to venture too far Northside. I run here when Asia Market has sold out of my Shin Black ramen, but also they have other Korean ramen varieties that Asian Market lacks. Plus Oriental Emporium on Abbey Street has a beautiful seafood counter. Koreans love their seafood. Want shrimp for your Haemul Pajeon; clams for your Haemul Jeongol, and maybe some octopus or squid? Bingo.
30/32 Abbey Street Upper, North City, Dublin, D01 DE00
Rathmines Rd Lower, Dublin 6
3. Coreana Supermarket
You know what’s terrific about a Korean-owned market? Koreans!
Many of the East-Asian markets are staffed predominantly by Chinese. Coreana is Dublin's one Korean-only, Korean-staffed market where you will also find Korean household items, like metal chopsticks, metal soup spoons, and just-too-cute dishwashing gloves. Its boutique size and meticulous organisation of its ingredients makes this, in many ways, the ideal place to go for anyone who is interested in cooking Korean, but is unsure of where to start. Coreana also does thinly shaved beef for smoky, slightly sweet bulgogi, and bags of peeled garlic for 99 cents, which is a bonus for many cooks. Also they have a delicious selection of teas, including roasted barley tea boricha and omija-cha, the wonderfully tart, nuanced tea made from magnolia berries.
Plus Coreana has an online delivery service that is reliable. They deliver free for a minimum of €100, and they will not make random substitutions.
19 Little Britain St, Smithfield, Dublin 7, D07 NP97
4. Super Asia Foods & Brother’s Dosirak
Lunch counters within markets are embedded in the Korean culinary way of life, whether they are in a humble day-to-day purveyor or in a glitzy department store. Many Koreans living here claim that Brother’s Dosirak, the lunch counter located inside the Super Asia Foods on Capel Street, is the best counter in Dublin, and people swear by the bibimbap. Perhaps for this reason, we’ve neglected the market in which it resides, which is lovely. Expect a mix of Korean and Chinese products. (The sign outside is in Chinese; the staff is mostly Chinese.) They have a nice meat counter too, and a seafood section with tanks of live lobsters.
27 Capel St, North City, Dublin 1, D01 E2A0
https://welcome.asianstore.vip/ (Note: the site is in English/Chinese)
5. Han Sung Korean and Japanese Market
Some love Dosirak. Others, like me, swear by the Han Sung counter. Located at the back of the market, it has lip-smacking renditions of classics like seafood and tofu jjigae stew, kimchi fried rice, and bibimbap. It also has more down-and-dirty Korean pleasures like Army Stew (ramen stew with hot dogs and Spam -- do not knock it until you tried it); cheese fried rice (after the war, the Koreans put cheese on many dishes and it works) and much fried chicken.
Han Sung’s Korean and Chinese staff are helpful. Like Coreana they have thinly shaved beef for bulgogi. As Han Sung’s name suggests, the products in its shop are more dedicated to Korean, but you can also find Japanese. One Japanese author claims that they sometimes stock hard-to-find Japanese sweets like dorayaki (small fluffy crepes, sandwiched with adzuki paste) and taoyaki (fish-shaped waffles filled with adzuki paste).
Also, Han Sung delivers groceries! We’ve only recently discovered this because their shopping site is under their old name, Han Yang. However, this English language site is organised, beautifully laid out, and blissfully easy to navigate.. You can get rice, bulgogi beef, the luxe Japanese wagyu beef, barley tea, Japanese sweets, and much, much more. There is free delivery for orders over €50.
22 Strand Street Great, North City, Dublin, D01 K8E8
Korean labeling can be daunting because the English labeling is tiny, or non-existent. Just remember: Brined shrimp (saeujeot) are in jars. Dried anchovies (myeolchi) are in packages decorated with frolicking fish. The jangs – the Korean Trinity of sauces – are in tubs. Gochujang (red pepper paste) is the red tub; Doenjang (fermented bean paste) is the brown tub; Ssamjang (slightly sweetened gochujang and doenjang pastes combined) is in the green.
It is easy to spot Korean script, which is helpful if you are hunting for a Korean product among the Chinese and Japanese. Korean script has circles, Chinese and Japanese do not.
If you are new to Korean cooking, making kimchi may be a decent way to start. In kimchi, you are picking up ingredients fundamental to Korean cooking (gochugaru, saeujeot). And while your kimchi ferments, you can dream of all the dishes with which you will accompany it. Our favourite kimchi recipe right now is Esther Choi's in Saveur.
Also buy scissors! Koreans snip everything -- from kimchi to herbs and shortribs. Once you scissor you will never look back.
Gochu/Gochugaru/gochujang: Gochu is the bright red capiscum pepper that is at the foundation of much Korean cooking. You will probably not use much of gochu in its raw pepper form. Gochugaru is the red pepper powder. Gochujang is the red pepper paste.
Fun fact: the gochu did not come to Korea until the17th century. It is hard to imagine Korean cooking without it.
Doenjang: fermented soybean paste, similar to Japanese miso.
Ssamjang: a combination of gochujang and doenjang, spiced and sweetened.
Bibimbap: classic Korean dish of rice in a stone bowl topped with meat and vegetables arrayed in an attractive pattern, and often finished with an egg
Bulgogi: classic Korean dish of shaved, marinated beef.
Omija-cha magnolia berry tea.
Borija-cha barley tea.
Kimchi: fermented vegetable/fruit, usually cabbage and the star of most Korean tables.
Makgeolli: sparkling rice wine traditionally served in metal cups.
Myeolchi: anchovies, fundamental to many Korean broths. Also delicious when stirfried.
Saujoet: brined baby shrimp, traditional in kimchi.
Soju: fermented Korean rice spirit.
Ttuk: sliced rice cakes, popular in soups and stir fries.