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[Epicurean challenge] Spring greens bring nature to table

Namul, which means seasoned vegetables, is an essential part of every Korean meal. Koreans even have an old saying, “The same namul and the same rice,” which means it’s the same thing over and over again.

All kinds of “grass” are eaten in Korea, especially in the spring season, when new tender shoots emerge. Nature is brought straight to the kitchen table in various shades of green.

(Shot and produced by Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Wild vegetables without names are enjoyed too, as long as they can be seasoned with basic condiments. In the past, it was common to see people forage wild vegetables on hills or on mountains, although this may be illegal in some instances.

Seasonings for namul do not differ greatly, usually set around the use of salt or soy sauce, minced garlic, hot pepper powder, sesame oil and ground sesame seeds to sprinkle on top. But the vegetables are easily distinguished by one’s own unique scent and texture.

Seasoned chamnamul, banpungnamul, wild pepper leaves are enjoyed from late spring to early summer. The fragrance is strong, lingering in the mouth for a long time. Koreans often say, “It is as if a mountain or a field is in my mouth,” after tasting a dish of fresh namul. 

The Korea Herald`s reporter Im Eun-byel holds up a basketful of namul (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
The Korea Herald`s reporter Im Eun-byel holds up a basketful of namul (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Unlike salads with sweet and sour dressings, namul dishes are savory with a clean, mild taste. Served with a bowl of hot rice, you can add the desired amount of namul to your spoon.

Not-so-green vegetables are also enjoyed, bringing color to the table.

Deodeok, looking quite earthy and inedible at first sight, boasts its unique fragrance when chewed. With a slight hint of medicine-like smell, its clean, refreshing scent is unique. The root vegetable is usually grilled with chili paste.

Dorajinamul, bellflower root salad is an everyday side dish in Korea. The peeled, shredded roots are stir-fried with sesame seeds and oil. The taste is mildly bitter with a sharp scent.

By Im Eun-byel (