Admire the colorful blossoms of spring, then eat them
“There are certain steps you need to take when you eat kkotbap,” explains Lee Sang-eun, 48, a director at Sangsoo Herb.
First, remove the dozen or so large flower petals on top and place them on top of the mulkimchi (water kimchi) that comes on the side. Underneath you’ll find smaller petals and herb leaves. Next, put rice in the bowl, season it with the prearranged herb soy sauce, then mix it with gochujang (red pepper paste). The gochujang also contains 10 different kinds of herbs, according to Lee.
“Now you take a spoonful of the rice and lay a flower petal on top, just as you would normally put a piece of meat on a spoonful of rice,” Lee said.
“That’s called nasturtium. Its aftertaste is sour and spicy at the same time,” said Lee.
Every petal had a different taste. The begonia with crimson petals and yellow pistils and stamens tasted sour. The pinkish geranium was bitter, while its paler cousin tasted acidic. A light purple rosemary flower was salty.
Though kkotbap may be unfamiliar to most, it’s not new on the menu at Castle of Herb. It’s been a steady seller for 10 years here at the restaurant run by Sangsoo Herb.
As you’d expect, Sangsoo Herb, a complex in North Chungcheong, is all about herbs, with a large herb garden, an herb exhibition, an herb shop and, of course, the restaurant.
According to Lee, there’s another reason to come to Castle of Herb besides the unusual menu. “Young herb sprouts and flower petals are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber to be only good for your health,” he said.
You can eat kkotbap all year round at Sangsoo Herb, with different petals according to the season. There are sizes available for 6,000 won ($5.30), 8,000 won and 13,000 won, though extra meat or flower petals will add to the cost.
But is eating flowers really for everyone?
Those who are not familiar with strong herb flavors may find food made with a lot of herbs or flowers causes their stomachs to rebel somewhat.
“What is important when you make food with flowers is the ratio of flavors,” said Cho Woo-hyun, the owner and master chef at Flora, a recognized Italian restaurant in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul.
Cho is known for his innovative recipe for “flower pizza,” an iconic flower dish at his establishment. Flowers are also used as minor ingredients in his dishes.
“While each different taste and flavor is what you’d expect most when using edible flowers in your food, it can backfire if the flavors blend in an unpleasant way,” Cho said. “You should combine flowers proportionately, according to each flower’s flavor and texture.”
Flora’s pizza features a variety of edible flowers as toppings, but the flavor is not overwhelming. The soft taste of tomato sauce, salty pizza dough, and tangy rucola neutralize the unfamiliar combinations of the petals.
“When you try making food with flowers at home, I recommend you combine other ingredients and flowers at a ratio of 10 to 1,” said Cho.
By Seo Jung-min [firstname.lastname@example.org]