K-drama cuisine


POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

At his Friday cooking class, Walter Rhee promised his students “;oodles of Korean noodles,”; parceling out tasty samples of six dishes, some new even to folk familiar with the fare dished out at local restaurants.




K-drama cooking classes


        » Place: Palama Super Market, 1210 Dillingham Blvd.

» Time: 3 to 5 p.m. on scheduled Fridays (see below)


» Cost: $59 (cash only)


» Call: 391-1550 or visit www.waltereatshawaii.com


» Food tours: Taste of Koreatown Eateries & Beyond, May 23 and July 31. Cost is $69.


Class schedule


        » Friday: Korean side dishes

» May 22: Ultimate Korean-Chinese dishes


» June 19: Bizarre Korean foods


» June 26: Korean seafood—shellfish


» July 3: Basic Korean cooking


» July 24: Ultimate Korean-Chinese dishes


Besides bibim kooksu and chap chae, Rhee showed his small class—gathered on the second-floor kitchen and employee lounge in the back of the Korean Palama Super Market—how to put together other noodle dishes such as the chewy chol men, a Korean-style udon; naeng myun (using cold buckwheat noodles); and kim chee noodles.

The enterprising Rhee calls what he does “;K-drama cooking classes,”; mostly to generate the interest of those enamored of the popular Korean serial dramas on television.

While not as avid a fan as his student Charlotte Tanaka of Manoa, Rhee said that “;the K-drama stories do cover the whole strata of Korean society, from the poor to the rich. So they do show the whole spectrum of Korean diets.”;

Tanaka had a question for Rhee during class: “;Why do prisoners always get a block of tofu when they get released?”;

After some online research, Rhee informed Tanaka that many years ago in Korea, prisoners became malnourished with the poor food served while incarcerated. Upon their release, the soybean-made foodstuff, the least expensive form of protein, helped former prisoners transition into a regular diet.

Rhee always throws in such tidbits of his native culture during the classes.

In his early adult life, earning a bachelor's degree in marine biology from Cornell University, Rhee's focus was nowhere near cooking. He said he found his calling after realizing that in food science he could “;eat my research animals.”; That was 19 years ago, and after receiving his master's in food science and human nutrition at the University of Hawaii, he hasn't looked back.

Tanaka was joined on a recent Friday by two retired couples, Robert and Camille Musetti of Nuuanu and Chuck and Linda Coons of Seattle, who knew of the class after taking Rhee's Koreatown restaurant walking tour last month.

“;I like the clear flavors and spiciness of the food,”; Camille Musetti said. “;The flavors are so unique,”; added her husband.

“;I like the aspect in Korean foods of a lot of fermentation and pickling,”; said Chuck Coons. “;We've made a lot of food discoveries on this trip, like Thai and Indonesian, but Korean really popped out for us.”;

Part of that is due to Rhee's emphasis of what he calls the “;Three G's”; that are basic to Korean cooking—equal parts garlic, green onion and ginger—and the use of fresh ingredients.

The noodle dishes he prepared for the class could either be simple “;bites to go”; or, with the addition of something like bulgogi (barbecue beef), a full meal.

One of the foods highlighted, chol men, even came with an etiquette lesson. Diners are tempted to lift the bowl to their mouths to get through the very chewy consistency. But that's a no-no: It's bad manners in Korean society. Rather, it's head down, bowl on the table.

Julienned cucumbers and cabbage is added to the noodles, along with the familiar gochujang (hot pepper sauce), the aforementioned Three G's and vinegar, plus a low-calorie soda called Cheon Yeon which tastes like bubble gum (but 7-Up will do as well, said Rhee).

A lightly colored beef-broth stock with slices of daikon is common to both Rhee's recipes for kim chee noodles and Korean udon (the latter with the addition of a powder made of anchovies, to enhance the flavor). A bit of sugar and the juice of the kim chee are added to the kim chee noodles, and each student adds sesame oil to their own taste. For the udon, the deep-fried tofu known as aburage is added, along with egg and a green onion garnish.

The noodle recipes on this day reinforce Rhee's opinion that even without the popularity of K-dramas, Korean food is gaining popularity with health-conscious Americans “;because of the minimal amount of oil used, using fresh sauteed vegetables and it having a lot of fiber.”;