Cook with a Joseon link showcases food at forum

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Cook with a Joseon link showcases food at forum

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Cho Kwi-boon

Cho Kwi-boon understands traditional Korean food.

A relative by marriage to Joseon era-scholar Lee Si-myeong’s family, she had the opportunity to showcase her knowledge at the 7th World Water Forum held in the southeastern cities of Daegu and Gyeongju, where she presented the country’s traditional foods based on a collection of her family’s recipes that has been preserved for 343 years.

Cho - who is technically a 13th-generation in-law in the intellectual’s family - was responsible for preparing a luncheon on April 12 for seven leaders and two officials representing countries or international organizations participating in the forum.

“I am so happy to present Korea’s traditional foods to world leaders,” Cho said.

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The dishes on the table are based on the recipes in the Eumsikdimibang, the first Korean-language cookbook written in 1672. Provided by Cho Kwi-boon

For years, she has preserved and passed on the culinary heritage contained in the cookbook, Eumsikdimibang, written in 1672 by Lee’s wife, Chang Gye-hyang.

Eumsikdimibang, or “Understanding the Taste of Food,” is the first Korean-language cookbook of the Joseon era (1392-1910).

The luncheon was held at Keimyung Hanhakchon, a traditional Korean village built at Keimyung University in Daegu, where the 66-year-old cook served 12 foods based on the book, including japchae (stir-fried glass noodles) and eomandu (fish dumplings).

But it was no easy task to serve traditional foods to foreign guests, and there were some cultural barriers.

Emomali Rahmon, the president of Tajikistan, and Abdelilah Benkirane, the prime minister of Morocco, for instance, do not consume pork as Muslims.

So Cho prepared them Halal dishes - food permissible for them to eat under Islamic law - buying beef in Seoul’s internationally friendly Itaewon neighborhood and chicken from a Halal market in Daegu.

She also replaced pork with beef in one of the main dishes. A soup made with pomegranate-shaped dumplings was also prepared for those who do not eat rice.

“The forum’s officials told me what preferences and restrictions each person had,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time Cho has presented traditional Korean cuisine to foreigners, though it was her first official event that involved multiple heads of state.

Last month, she held a food tasting, serving Seoul’s foreign ambassadors at an event that included U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert and British Ambassador Charles Hay.

This time, she said, she was able to relax a little after forum officials praised her work.

“I will put more effort into promoting our traditional foods to the world,” she added.

BY HONG GWEON-SAM [nam.yoonseo@joongang.co.kr]

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