Order Dakalbi, But Be Warned: It's a Fall Dish, And It's Spicy!

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Order Dakalbi, But Be Warned: It's a Fall Dish, And It's Spicy!

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well," Virginia Woolf said.

In Oriental medicine, food is generally believed to have a direct effect on one's energy level. Appropriate foods vary with the seasons. Fruit and raw food are appropriate in summer, while hot, spicy foods are touted in the fall.

Although the claims may be controversial, they have many adherents in Korea.

Dr. Shin Min-sik, an Oriental medical doctor, says the pungent flavor of hot, spicy foods activates the central nervous system, which controls secretion from glands that line the air passages. The glands then release fluids that give you watery eyes and the sniffles. Eating spicy food at least twice a week is especially beneficial, it is said, for bronchitis sufferers.

But many people enjoy hot, spicy foods for their unique, full flavors-not just for medical reasons. There are many popular spicy foods around the world from many different cusines ranging from India's fiery curries to Mexico's love affair with jalapeno peppers.

In Korea, dakgalbi, which originated in Chunchon City in Kangwon province, is becoming one of the country's favorite hot and spicy foods. Dakgalbi, a spicy chicken rib dish, has as much kick as kimchi, the best-known Korean tear-inducer. Kimchi is a side dish and dakgalbi is a main dish.

The younger generation and many foreigners like it because of its availability, special flavor and inexpensive price.

"First, it is not expensive and it is delicious," said college student Kim Lee-hyeon. "Second, it's found almost everywhere. I really like it, but it may be too hot for some people the first time they try it."

Even Koreans usually order dakgalbi with rice, side dishes such as cold young radish kimchi, hot soup, and a soft drink, because the ribs are sometimes too spicy to eat alone. "For those who don't like spicy foods, we try not to season the dish with too much red pepper," said the host of a Yong-san dakgalbi restaurant, Lee Jeong-hee. The simple recipe lends itself to home cooking. First, take some raw vegetables such as sliced cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Mix them with rice cakes in a pan, topping them off with the ribs and red pepper paste, bean sauce and sugar seasoning. Sesame leaves, Welsh onion or different kinds of noodles can be added, depending on the cook's preference.

by Kim Jae-seon

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