Vegetables, extraordinary flavor reinterpreted in Korean style

Vegetables, extraordinary flavor reinterpreted in Korean style

12/20/2022
  • Jinah Chang bibigo base is nice

    Vegetables,
    extraordinary flavorreinterpreted
    in Korean style

    Koreans have enjoyed vegetables in more ways than any other people. They don’t stop at using them in salads or as a garnish to meat dishes, but ponder on how to truly enjoy these delicious ingredients. The variety of veggie recipes Koreans have had for centuries is evident: they enjoy them by boiling, pan-frying, pickling, frying as chips, stir-frying, roasting, steaming, and as a wrap or a fresh salad mixed with seasoning. We visited a restaurant that reinterprets Korean vegetable dishes with a modern twist. Decorated with a simple exterior with floor-to-ceiling windows and wood finishes as well as wood furniture to highlight the colorful ingredients, this is Base Is Nice. The one-man restaurant is run by owner Jinah Chang, who manages everything from interior design and store operations to menu planning and cooking. The menu changes every month to deliver the value of vegetables through plant-based meals and juices. Chang makes and serves “nice” dishes “based” on her own experiences with food she enjoyed in her hometown on Jeju Island (Korea’s largest island), as well as Tokyo and New York where she lived for many years. She reinterprets not only local dishes, but also regional dietary cultures and ingredients in a Korean way to present a concise, well-balanced and veggie-centric diet with Base Is Nice.Chang is a planner. She has been in charge of multiple roles within the food industry, from naming restaurants and creating a brand identity and story, to visual, graphic and spatial design, menu planning, food service quality control, as well as sales analysis and strategy setup. Now she even cooks for Base Is Nice. “The chef’s title is not for me. I just added cooking to what I have been doing as a planner. ‘A person who delivers a message based on vegetables’ would be more suitable.” She cooks as part of her efforts to communicate her message. Planning, operation and cooking are all interconnected in a one-man restaurant, so these three roles are just one to her. While veganism draws global attention, it is not a new concept to Koreans as they have always been a veggie-friendly people. Living in mountainous areas, Koreans commonly cook with wild greens and herbs picked from nearby hills. And they know how best to cook each ingredient obtained from nature in various ways. Vegetables have surely established a strong position on Korean dining tables. “Wherever they go, Koreans always bring gochujang (chili pepper paste) with them. Korean cuisine is the best when it comes to satisfying the palate, and Koreans are well-trained in tasting a wide variety of flavors. This wide flavor spectrum opens a whole new world to those who have not experienced Korean cuisine.”

    “Tired of meat-centric Western diets, I rediscovered the beauty of Korean vegetables when I came back to Korea. Aromatic, beautiful and rich in flavor and texture, you can never experience this kind of veggies in any other place.”

    As soon as Chang rediscovered Korean vegetables, she embarked on a new dining table project starring them. She presented vegetables in their most attractive ways, wishing to bring them closer to more people. The beauty of vegetables lies in their colors, which come in a wider variety than any other ingredient. To Chang, color is flavor. She cooks vegetables in a simple manner to present their original colors as they are. Everything is intact, with no man-made coloring. Vegetables are the most easily accessible, common ingredients.“The climate has changed and agricultural techniques have developed in modern society. Some vegetables even grow all year round. So you can easily pick up popular veggies for a reasonable price at nearby grocery stores.” “This is my first time on a veggie-only diet. I never thought lotus root would be delicious.”These are common comments from customers of Base Is Nice. They rarely leave behind food, which means they did not tire of the plant-heavy meal. Vegetable dishes go beyond the limits of unpleasant taste and sameness that animal proteins have. Chang cooks to erase prejudice against vegetables, and it takes just one good experience for people to accept them.“I hope people seek out vegetables in order to enjoy good food rather than just for health reasons. No one is excluded or favored here. Anyone who discovers the true beauty of a well-balanced yet easy plant-based diet can choose to have one.

    We need to respect ingredients which become a part of our bodies. I believe our efforts in truly exploring the value of each vegetable ingredient will be a way of showing such respect.”

    Cooking is an art form. As in the fine arts, architecture, music and literature, cooking involves the pursuit of beauty. However, only cooking can be appreciated in a different dimension: it becomes a part of you as soon as you experience it. A plant-based diet becomes your dietary culture and lifestyle, so those who cook affect the daily lives of others and their bodies. This is why chefs are required to have thoughtful consideration for themselves, others and the Earth. “I can have mandu one after the other, if they are as healthy as these. It’s good that the original taste of the vegetables is emphasized, rather than just using it as a meat alternative.”bibigo also makes food starring vegetables. PlanTable Mandu is made of vegetables and vegetable oil with no meat. Frozen mandu are often referred to as “emergency food” in Korea as always necessary food that people fill up in a freezer easily available and serviceable as a meal. And bibigo’s PlanTable Mandu makes plant-based food easily accessible, allowing those who seek Korean vegetable dishes to enjoy them in a simple way. “Food that is fast and easy makes it friendlier for modern lifestyles. Convenience food is consumed by more when the cooking process is easy to follow, which is why bibigo’s veggie foods are highly welcomed.” The closer you are with vegetables, the better off you will be. It benefits both you and the Earth. And bibigo’s PlanTable Mandu will benefit the world by sharing Korean flavors starring vegetables.Presented by bibigoCredits Photographer Injun Park Videographer Saccharin Film Contributing Editor Seohyung Jo

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