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Ancient Korean food comes to life in Japan after 13 centuries

Ancient Korean delicacies from 13 centuries ago were presented at a Japanese shrine near Tokyo on Sunday, pinning hopes that food will forge a lasting harmony between the two neighboring countries whose bilateral relations have been frayed over a host of issues.

The historical celebration was held in the beautiful UNESCO-listed shrine of Koma Jinja in Hidaka, Saitama Prefecture, located in the northwestern fringes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

The Japan-South Korea Culinary Culture Association, a non-profit organization launched to share Korean food and culture in Japan, organized the event.

The visitors were seated at assigned tables and were ready to feast on steaming-hot thornback fish marinated in soybean sauce, mixed-grain porridge, pork fermented in bean paste, roasted acorn cakes, pickled vegetables and crown daisy salad.

Gyemyeongju -- a Goguryeo wine made of corn, sorghum syrup, malt, pine leaves and other traditional ingredients -- enticed the taste buds of the merry participants. The name of Gyemyeongju, or "cockcrow wine," derives from its short maturation period -- as short as several hours -- so that every household can brew the wine in the evening and rise when the rooster crows to enjoy a glass.

The Japanese gourmets gave delighted sighs one dish after another, some taking pictures and some discreetly taking notes.

The event celebrates the migration of Yakgwang, the prince of Goguryeo Dynasty (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.) and his followers to ancient Japan, according to the host organization. The royal immigrants landed in the kingdom under the Yamato regime around October 669, according to the non-profit bilateral organization.

The prince failed to make it back to his kingdom, invaded by the united army of the Unified Silla and Tang China. Instead, he and his followers settled in Japan, which was later called "Koma,"

or the Goguryeo village. By May 716, the Goguryeo village under Yakgwang became a home to 1,799 Goguryeo people from around the Yamato Kingdom.

The food salon strongly embraces the philosophy that a national cuisine is living proof of people's identity, which cannot stand apart from historical and cultural context.

The event opened a new philosophical horizon for some 50 top-notch regional figures, including the mayor of Koma, lawmakers, and chiefs of restaurants and hoteliers operating in Japan, such as Japanese nabe restaurant chain Ichiriki, global Korean restaurant chain Gaenari and the Japanese traditional hot spring business Ainori, to name a few. The head of Kokusai Express, Japan's largest logistics chain, also attended the unique event with an open eye for novel inspirations.

The event was organized into two sessions: a cultural talk show and a food tasting. The food tasting was preceded by a round of an inspiring talk show between Cho Sun-ok, the head of the Japan-South Korea Culinary Culture Association, and the head of the Koma Shrine. The two gave an intriguing dissertation on the food history of Korea and Goguryeo, as well as their culinary kinship to the roots of some of the most common Japanese dishes.

"Both Korea and Japan sit next to the sea, which has allowed their people to develop the skills of marination and fermentation using salt and soy bean sauce," said Cho Sun-ok, the main guest of the talk show and the chief of the Korea-Japan food and culture organization.

"The details of cooking techniques may be diverse, but there is the striking similarity of the time when the people of Goguryeo and Japan started developing salt and soy bean sauce as a basic spice for their everyday cuisine. Take Korea's cheonggukjang and Japan's natto. Both resulted from the thriving art of fermentation, and it is surprising to notice the subtle variation," the chef-lecturer continued. Having trained around 1,000 Japanese chefs in Korean cuisine, she has earned the title "the Korean food missionary in Japan."

"Food has always been the source of love and inspiration. I hope a larger number of (Japanese) people can experience Korean food and see how the ancient people of Goguryeo were fully engaged in the art of fermented food," Cho said.

The culinary event received favorable reviews from the Japanese guests.

"I found the food to be extremely healthy. "I am not a big fan of culinary events, but this is quite different," said Takahashi Kuniko, the wife of Kokusai Express chief Na Seung-do. The couple was informed of the event by the Japanese operation of Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp.

"I didn't know anything about Goguryeo-style food, but it is surprisingly delicious," she said. (Yonhap)