[The Palate] Buckwheat makes its autumnal arrival

2016-09-23 14:46

Regional food references are tantamount to culinary seals of approval, as such descriptions proudly tell you about the quality, authenticity or style of whatever you are buying.

When it comes to buckwheat -- “maemil” in Korean -- Bongpyeong in Gangwon Province is the place most widely recognized for producing the best quality buckwheat in the country and where an annual festival is held each autumn in its honor. Buckwheat purveyors and restaurants around the country know the marketing power of Bongpyeong.

A greatly popular and appreciated ingredient in Korean cuisine, buckwheat is found in a variety of recipes, most notably in the famous noodle dishes, naengmyeon and makguksu, which would not be the prized dishes they are without its presence.

Maemil Ggotpilmuryeop’s maemil kalguksu is made with 70 percent buckwheat and 30 percent white flour. (Christine Cho)

Naturally gluten-free, it is blended with other flours to make the cooking process easier, and to give it a more appealing and refined texture. But to find a 100 percent buckwheat dish is most beneficial health-wise and nothing short on flavor, possessing a strong distinctive nutty scent and a rough-around-the-edges mouth-feel. Considered a complete protein with all the nine essential amino acids and high in fiber, buckwheat is also one of the healthiest foods around. 

Baekoonbong Makguksu’s maemil jeonbyeong is made with 100 percent buckwheat flour and filled with ripe kimchi and ground pork. (Christine Cho)

Aside from noodles, buckwheat flour is present in unique dishes such as maemilmuk, a savory jelly used in side dishes or featured as large batons in cold soups. Maemiljeon and maemil jeonbyeong are fried pancakes and soft buckwheat crepes stuffed and rolled with a variety of ingredients such as glass noodles, kimchi or meat. Maemil kalguksu, hand cut noodles, and sujebi, torn dough dumplings, are more healthful variations for those not fond of white flour. 

Bongpyeong Makguksu’s chilled broth makguksu is made with buckwheat flour from the Bongpyeong region. (Christine Cho)

The classic buckwheat soba noodle style is also widely popular, but we should be honest and say that the Japanese have turned soba with dipping sauce into an art form -- and they do it much better than we do here.

If you are able to make a trip to Bongpyeong-myeon in Gangwon county, you will find that you are in the heart of buckwheat country and eating from the land around you. For city dwellers there are many tasty restaurants that serve buckwheat. If you encounter dishes that use 100 percent Bongpyeong buckwheat, you can be assured of maximum nutrition as well as high quality. 

By Christine Cho (thepalatekorea@gmail.com)

Christine Cho, a Korean-American expat in Seoul, has been eating and cooking her way around the world for 16 years as a private chef. -- Ed.

Places to enjoy buckwheat dishes in Seoul

Maemil Ggotpilmuryeop

Address: 7-23 Tongui-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Telephone: (02) 734 0367

Baekoonbong Makguksu

Address: 672-39, Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Telephone: (02) 554-5155

Bongpyeong Makguksu

Address: 144-1, Pirun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Telephone: (02) 723-4830