So what does a Korean-Japanese restaurant have to do with eating local and seasonal in New Jersey? A lot. It has to do with exploring traditional foods. What are “traditional foods”? See the basics of traditional food as defined by Nourished Kitchen:
“In the simplest explanation, traditional foods focused on four basic principles: 1) avoidance of modern, refined foods; 2) celebration of unrefined, whole and natural foods; 3) respecting the importance of nutrient-density in our food and 4) preparing and eating foods in the same manner that nourished our ancestors and kept them well. In essence, if your great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t put it in your mouth”.
Each one of us will find within our family and geographic background foods that sustained our forefather’s generation after generation. When eating at our favorite ethnic restaurants we can peel back the layers to discover principles that can be applied to our lives.
In my own experience, although I grew up in the north I was deeply influenced by my family’s southern traditions. I grew up eating greens from our back yard. Aunts and friends would occasionally treat us to vegetables, peaches, and pecans from visits down south. Our neighbor, now well in his 90’s gardened year after year and still does. Despite so many years living in New Jersey, his Alabama roots and traditions of growing and sharing his produce with family and friends has been maintained. I can still see him in years past with his wide brimmed, straw hat and green jumper quietly tilling in the morning sun. On occasion as a child we’d walk by and he’d offer us a fresh cucumber straight from the garden or share tomatoes for my grandmother.
Back to the Korean-Japanese restaurant . . . Kimchi Hana, one of my favorite places to eat. When you arrive you are asked if you want barbecue or regular. Once seated, you get up to seven dishes, all vegetables with the exception of perhaps one served before your entree. Besides the Kimchi, a fermented spicy cabbage dish infused with chilies, garlic and ginger, they vary from visit to visit. Many are seasoned with a kiss of sesame oil and seeds for garnish. Fermented foods are always present from the Kimchi to the Miso soup served with some of the specials to the house-made soy paste served with barbecue to the small charming bottles of soy sauce present on each table. The flavors range from sweet to spicy to pungent to briny. During the meal, the server brings barley tea; it’s finished with fresh, thick orange slices to cleanse the palate. When we peel back the layers we find:
• Warm beverages are consumed during the meal
• Fermented and pickled foods are incorporated into each meal
• Sprouted foods are commonly eaten with meals
• Sea vegetables are commonly eaten with meals
• The meal is primarily vegetables
• When animal protein is present, there are still plenty of vegetables
• Meals are finished with fresh fruit
Also, there are warming elements to the food through the use of chilies, garlic and ginger. All of which are perfect for our damp, wintry, Jersey weather. We can apply these same principles by doing the following:
• Drink warm teas with meals.
• Eat fermented and pickled foods daily (see a list of fermented foods at the end).
• Add plenty of garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper or chilies to stock, beans, and whole grains; spicy peppers can be pierced and simmered to tame the heat.
• Eat plenty of local, organic, seasonal vegetables with throughout the day.
• Finish your meals with seasonal fruit.
These are just a few examples of how we can translate something wonderfully exotic and delicious into principles we can use on a regular basis within our lifestyle and budget. Sources of dairy and non-dairy fermented foods:
Dairy Fermented Foods
• Cottage Cheese
Non-Dairy Fermented Foods
• Pickled cucumbers
• Pickled garlic
• Pickled beets
• Pickled radish
• Pickled corn relish
• Korean kimchi
• Soy sauce
• Fermented tofu
• Naturally fermented and unpasteurized beers