Flavor Trip: Korean to Caribbean Cuisine

By Tiffany Simms

Asian cuisine tends to have a lot of similarities, whether it is Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Most meals consist of rice, lots of meat, egg, and the same or at least similar spices. However, Korean cuisine is also very unique in its own way due to Korean ingredients, namely doenjang, gochujang, and kimchi. Nevertheless, it holds resemblances to not only its Asian neighbours but also to an unexpecting and distant friend, Caribbean cuisine. Both Korean and Caribbean cuisine consists of a lot of spicy and hearty dishes along with seafood. We have selected a few dishes from each cuisine that most resemble each other:

  • Domi-yangnyeom-gui (도미양념구이) - Fried Snapper

One thing that Koreans and those from the Caribbean have in common is that they both know how to season meat, especially seafood! 

If you follow Maangchi’s recipe for domi-yangnyeom-gui, you definitely won’t hear of any complaints of it being “too fishy.” It is a flavourful dish with a variety of seasonings, pepper, soy sauce, garlic, and onions. Ideally, you would use snapper for this dish, but technically, you can use whatever fish you have available. 

Snapper is also quite popular in the Caribbean and they know better than anyone that everything is better fried! Not only is the snapper fried but it is seasoned with similar ingredients, such as garlic. Of course, there are also lots of peppers from black pepper to habanero! Learn how to make Jamaican fried snapper here

  • Golbaengi-muchim (골뱅이무침) - Stew Conch 

Not everyone’s mouth immediately waters at the sight of sea snail listed on a menu. However, this is something that both Koreans and Bahamians consider a delicacy! 

In Korea, it is not uncommon to eat moon snail salad, or golbaengi-muchim. This dish is an anju, typically served with alcohol and sold in pojangmacha. You can prepare this dish by cooking whelks in a spicy red sauce, then serving it alongside noodles. 

Conch (pronounced “konk”) is very popular in the Caribbean, especially in The Bahamas. Conch is also a type of sea snail and is similar to calamari in taste and texture. There are very few things Bahamians love more than conch and they eat it just about any way you can think of, fried, fritters, chowder, salad, etc. Stew conch is a classic Bahamian dish and the one that most resembles golbaengi-muchim. While this sea snail is in a stew rather than a sauce, it’s still quite spicy and flavourful as you might expect. Additionally, instead of serving with noodles or rice, you would eat stew conch with Johnny cake

  • Ppyeo-haejangguk (뼈해장국) - Chicken Souse

Another thing that Korea and the Caribbean have in common: alcohol. Koreans have a reputation for knowing how to drink their alcohol. Of course, with a night of drinking comes a morning hangover. To combat this, dishes such as ox bone “hangover soup” or ppyeo-haejangguk have been created. This hearty, rich soup with nutritious meat is sure to make you feel strong again!

When you think of the islands, you might imagine yourself lounging at the beach with a piña colada, Bahama Mama, daiquiri, or straight up rum. Unfortunately, most of us can’t drink without consequences; therefore, like Korea’s “hangover soup,” the Caribbean has their own: souse. This soup is not only about warm comfort. No, this is about waking you up! While this soup consists of meat — usually chicken — pig foot, or sheep’s tongue; its two main ingredients are lime and hot chili pepper. Bahamian grandmothers say “chilis in this soup can kill the devil.” 

  • Myeongaju-muchim (명아주무침) - Callaloo

Korea is not known for vegetarian food, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few delicious vegetable dishes available. With resources like myeongaju (lamb’s quarters) growing in Korean mountains and fields, it is easy to find and make myeongaju-muchim. However, you can also use just about any leafy green vegetables. 

Callaloo is a popular Caribbean vegetable dish, and while it’s a staple Jamaican side dish, it is actually the national dish of the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Commonwealth of Dominica. Consequently, its recipe varies depending on the available local ingredients of each country. The consistent main ingredient is an indigenous leaf vegetable, such as amaranth, taro (both of these are often referred to as "callaloo") or xanthosoma. However, you can use water spinach if you do not have any of these ingredients available to you. 

  • Sujebi (수제비) - Peas and Dumpling Soup

Sujebi is a beloved Korean noodle soup in which the noodles are hand-torn from homemade dough. It is also an affordable meal with its origins coming from a time when the poor could not afford rice. There are also a couple variations of this dish. As an example, you can make kimchi sujebi if you prefer your soups spicy. Maangchi teaches how to make two versions here.

You would assume that with the tropical climate of The Bahamas the native dishes would not consist of many hot stews and soups. This is false. Once temperatures drop below 80°F and that sea breeze hits, they are pulling sweaters out of the closet and putting a pot of soup on the stove to cook. The go-to for chilly weather is peas and dumpling soup (or peas soup and dough), likely due to just how thick and hearty it is. It most resembles split pea soup, but has a lot more going on. With large chunks of ham, pigeon peas, vegetables, and dough dumplings, you won’t even remember what hunger is. To learn more and to make it yourself, check here

  • Korean Curry (카레라이스) - Caribbean Curry 

Although originating from Japanese influence, Korean curry is unique in its own right as it is generally lighter and resembles stew. It is also relatively easy-to-make since it is prepared with instant curry mix. It is a hearty and nutritious meal as it contains meat and vegetables while being served with rice. 

Caribbean curry resembles Korean curry in several ways: it contains a protein, usually chicken, vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, curry, obviously, and it is served with rice. Considering it’s both curry and Caribbean, one might automatically assume this is a very spicy dish. Caribbean curry certainly can be, if you wish, but that is not always the case. It always depends on the chef.

It is centered around the spices but spices don't automatically equate to your tongue burning. Recipe depends not only on chef but also country. Bahamian and Jamaican curry may resemble each other, but due to slight differences, such as peppers, it may not taste identical. However you choose to prepare it, you will come to realize why curry is a popular meal internationally as the flavours and spices captivate your taste buds. 

  • Jeonbok-juk (전복죽) - Tuna and Grits 

Also known as abalone rice porridge, jeonbok-juk is a type of juk or Korean rice porridge.  A local speciality of Jeju Island, it is a Korean delicacy. It is also considered quite nutritious and a digestive aid. Forget chicken noodle soup! We’d like a bowl of jeonbok-juk, please!

For Bahamians, tuna and grits is as common combination as peanut butter and jelly. Although it can be eaten for any meal, it is most traditionally a breakfast meal. Not only is it delicious, it’s simple and easy-to-make! 

  • Patbap (팥밥) - Peas ‘N’ Rice 

Quite popular for holidays or winter season, patbap is a bap. It is also sometimes referred to as “birthday rice.” It is prepared with non-glutinous white short-grain rice and adzuki beans. A traditional dish, its recipe is originally from Pyongan Province where adzuki beans are grown.

Initially, you might think patbap most resembles jambalaya of Louisiana Creole cuisine. Nonetheless, it also resembles the Caribbean dish, “peas ‘n’ rice.” Peas and rice is a very popular side dish across the entire Caribbean, from The Bahamas to Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica. Additionally, each island has their own slight variation of it. While this dish can be made with rice and any legume, pigeon peas are typically used in Bahamian recipes. However, you can use kidney beans or cowpeas as well. Whichever way you choose, you can’t go wrong! Additionally, it’s also common to eat the “potcake,” the congealed mix from the bottom of the pot. Similarly, Koreans eat nurungji (누룽지), or scorched rice. 

  • Hotteok (호떡) - Jamaican Banana Pancakes 

Everyone loves pancakes! It’s a universally-beloved food, but each country has their own twist on it. In Korea, hotteok is one of the most popular street foods. Imagine a pancake crossed with a crêpe in that it is a pancake with filling, usually something sweet like brown sugar, honey, nuts, etc. It’s a fun dish to make and you have the freedom to decide on the filling! 

In Jamaica, they utilize their bananas in a pancake-like fritter recipe. The bananas are combined with typical pancake ingredients, then fried before being topped with sugar. Like hotteok, this is a thick and sweet pancake that includes sugar and cinnamon. 

  • Kkae-ttangkong (깨강정) - Benny Cake 

Kkae-ttangkong is a traditional Korean treat, usually eaten in the holiday season for Christmas or Chuseok. It’s a crunchy candy consisting of sesame seeds as its main ingredient. It is recommended to add nuts and/or fruit to it as well. Find out just how simple it is to make here

Although The Bahamas has a variety of native dishes, including desserts, there are few candies. However, there is peanut and benny cake. The name is misleading as it resembles a brittle more than a cake. Benny cake and kkae-ttangkong share more resemblance than anything we have seen. Its primary ingredient is sesame seeds and it is even easier to make. Usually, when one makes benny cake, they also make a peanut cake as well or combine the two. 

Have you tried any of these dishes before? Do you have a favourite? Have you noticed any similarities from your own native food to that of Korean food? Let us know in the comments below! 

Written by Tiffany Simms

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