SEOUL, KOREA — Walk along the foothills between the rice fields and farms around the Punggokri-gil in Gochon-myeon, Kimpo city, and you will find the Baecheon Cho family village. Goga is a Korean restaurant that has a rather unique location within the small town. Inhabited by the fourth generation of the original Bacheon Cho family, this house resonates the philosophy of Kim Hyeonsuk, the owner of the restaurant and oldest daughter-in-law of the family.
Ms. Kim makes vinegar and Cheong - concentrated syrup - with lotus leaf, schisandra, mulberry, acanthopanax, and acacia flower, etc., the ingredients that show her keen interest in developing health food by mainly using vinegar and fermentation. The tender taste of low sodium vinegar and Cheongs are designed to promote Korean people's health. It is Ms. Kim's professionalism and belief in the harmony of nature and humans that led Goga to the where it is today
"Both Cheong and vinegar are naturally fermented food," Ms. Kim says, noting that these two ingredients are the base for most Korean recipes. She added that "you put various fruits such as plum and mulberry with sugar in a jar and ferment it to make a Cheong or vinegar. Compared to Cheong, however, vinegar requires very little sugar, so it is quite similar to how we make alcoholic beverages."
Plum Cheong, for example, is made from plum and sugar with the ratio being 1:1.2. The process is very important in making a Cheong and it is crucial to fill only about 70 percent of the jar with the mixture of sugar and plums so that there is enough room for oxygen. After three months, during which it should be stirred once a week for a total seven to eight times, the plum is strained before the second fermentation. The jar is, then, placed in the shade of a tree or basement and the second fermentation period depends on the ingredients or weather. In general, fruits take two months but during the winter - with the low temperature and little sunlight - it can take up to six months, Ms. Kim explains.
Fermentation is at the core of Korean food culture
Korea has used vinegar since the Chosun Dynasty, thanks to the climate conditions suitable for producing it, but a series of economic downturns later slowed down further development. However, Ms. Kim believes in Korea's potential to become one of the leading countries for fermented foods.
"Korean vinegar and Cheongs have many health benefits and we need to globalize them to make the most of its potential. We should also focus more on promoting traditional food made with them," says Ms. Kim, who recently succeeded in signing with Isekan Department Store in Japan to supply her vinegar and Cheongs under the brand name Goga to Japanese consumers who are well known for their high standards in food
Developing a new menu is also vital in order to globalize vinegar and Cheongs, which explains Ms. Kim's plan to open a cooking class in Japan in the near future.
What are the health benefits of vinegar and Cheong
The benefits of vinegar are already widely recognized: the organic acid helps to lower blood pressure by excreting overly accumulated sodium; control cholesterol; and alleviate constipation. In addition, it accelerates decomposition of lactic acid, assists metabolism, and therefore helps to relive fatigue. Vinegar is also highly recommended for weight loss as it gets rid of various wastes in the stomach and liver after turning into alkali when it is absorbed in the body.
Cheong is also good for health. Despite the high sugar content, the sugar in Cheong changes from monosaccharide to polysaccharide, which is good for the body and even diabetics can eat it without any problems. It is even better to ferment it for more than three years, and that is why older Cheongs and vinegar are more expensive like old wine.
She started the business to promote the nation's health and Ms. Kim believes that living in a good environment, using the ingredients grown in a clean environment, and eating the food made with vinegar and Cheong fermented in such an environment are the keys to good health and longevity.
Her efforts to globalize Korean vinegar finally came to fruition when Ms. Kim, who has been growing diverse wild flowers in the mountain behind her house, when the government approved and granted financial aid to her plan to build the Vinegar Town. As part of a national project, the town will become the central venue for vinegar-related research and marketing activities, which will bring her dream of making Korean vinegar a global brand one step closer to reality.
Her innovative products include Gochujang jam that is made from the lotus root Cheong, which is targeted for foreigners, and a cookie made with the residue that is gained during the second fermentation of Cheong. And a pickle is also one of her main products developed for the international markets.
Special dishes made with vinegar and Cheong
So how can I not try the Korean course menu made with the Goga vinegar and Cheong, once I was invited to this restaurant The table was filled with a variety of ingredients from the north and south province, where her mother came from.
The sour and sweet salad dressing with garlic and wild flower vinegar aroused my appetite, while the white Kimchi quenched the thirst. The lotus root pickled with schisandra had a beautiful color. Ms. Kim developed this unique and slightly bitter sauce for Deokgalbi that complements the meat's texture.
A bite of Herbal Bossam with bellflower root, lotus root, and Jerusaluem Artichoke, also known as Doeji Gamja in Korean, made me almost ecstatic. 'Ungeo Nengche' uses the Korean anchovy, which is in season now and used to be served for the Kings in the past. The sauce is based on burdock, and pine needle vinegar, which goes well with the chewy and savory fish. While the acorn cake helps to detoxify heavy metals, Susu Bukumi's simple taste makes it hard to stop wanting more of it. As for the side dishes, dandelion, coltsfoot, which has detoxifying effects, turnip Kimchi, rich in conjugated protein, and various pickles are served with lotus leaf rice. All of these dishes are seasoned with vinegar and Cheong for easy digestion.