[FOOD COURT] Enjoy the final days of fall with these seasonal specialties
Like many countries around the world, Korea enjoys four distinct seasons and the different produce that comes with that cycle. Take a quick trip to the supermarket these days and it should be fairly obvious that something has changed: The days of peaches and watermelons are gone and apples and pears are back in vogue.
Although apples are easily found all over the world, each region cultivates different species. Korea also has different species that ripen from September until the winter temperatures hit. Meanwhile, Korean pears, larger and milder than their better-known counterparts, are fairly unique and hard to find in other countries.
For the adventurous, fruit isn’t the only thing that changes with the season. The late fall is also the perfect time to try some different seafood, like the popular ggotge, or horse crab, and daeha, a type of large prawn.
Distinct from the bell-shaped pears common elsewhere around the world, the Korean pear is usually spherical. It is twice as big as a fist, but still be held in one hand. The skin is beige with small black spots, and you peel the skin and eat the white fruit inside. Korean pairs are slowly becoming more common at supermarkets overseas.
Look for large pairs with a smooth skin. If possible, hold one up and see if it feels dense enough for its size. Those are the things to check to get a tasty pear. When you buy more than one to eat for several days, put the ones you will keep in a refrigerator. If you have time, Koreans typically wrap each pear in newspaper and put it in an airtight bag before refrigerating to keep it fresh for longer.
Although apples are available throughout the year, the ones that are freshly harvested are always the best.
Although increasingly difficult to find, hongok apples are much sought after among those who want something tart. Usually smaller in size than the widely available Fuji or busa apple, the skin of a hongok applie is much redder. It is sweet and sour and its texture is usually not as hard.
Gamhong, another variety of apply as soft as hongok, is much sweeter. Considering the infamous Korean sweet tooth, gamhong apples are known as an especially premium variety found in the middle of the fall.
By the end of the fall, it is time for the Fuji or busa apple. It is one of the last apple species to be harvested from the trees, giving the fruit a deeper taste. Busa apples don’t lose their flavor easily, so many farmers and retailers store them in a warehouse to have them available on the shelves for sale all year long.
Although you’re unlikely to find it now, remember hongno apples for next fall. One of the first species that signals the start of the fall, hongno is relatively sweet with a hard texture. It is usually available through the end of September, or around Chuseok, which falls on Aug. 15 on the lunar calendar every year. Hongno are best to eat fresh because it loses its flavors quickly when left for a few days.
The fall season is the best time to eat the male ggotge as it gets fatter, ensuring you get more crab meat for your buck.
To enjoy every bite of the crab meat, people usually go for steamed ggotge. Steamed is especially popular in the fall, unlike in the spring when the female crabs bear eggs. In the spring, marinated the crabs in soy is popular as the eggs bring out the gamchilmat, or umami flavor. In May, people usually make gejang, meaning ggotge marinated with soy sauce for a couple of days, to get all the flavors from the intestines and eggs together with the crab meat.
The harbor towns alongside the West Sea is where many ggotge are captured, and Taean in North Chungcheong offers crabs at an affordable price, even holding an annual crab festival in early fall.
Ggotge isn’t the only thing one should try when visiting the West Sea in the fall. Daeha, or large prawns, are something worth trying right now. Although many immediately put all the prawns into a large pan covered with salt to cook before eating, try eating the fresh, live ones raw first — if you are adventurous enough.
The sweetness coming from the meat and the chewy texture harmoniously melt in the mouth. You can’t eat it raw once it has been frozen and thawed again, so if you want to try that variety you will have to go to the West Sea. The restaurants there usually give you a pan filled with shimp placed on top of salt to lightly season the daeha.
After eating the cooked daeha meat, take the cooked head and suck up the water or other small pieces of meat left in the head, as it contains more complex flavors than the rest of the meat. Many also choose to put all the cooked heads into a pot of boiling water to make ramyeon at the restaurant, or even take them home to make shellfish stock for seafood-flavored pasta.
BY LEE SUN-MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]