As part of the 2015 Korea Joa Project media tour of South Korea, we were able to see many of the country's most exciting aspects. As a big fan of Korean food, I was especially looking forward to our visit to the Food & Culture Korea Academy and the chance to meet Kim Soo Jin, Korea's first "Food Director." What is a food director? She explained that it's a new kind of cultural ambassador who brings the beauty, variety, and healthfulness of Korean cuisine to the public, partly via Korean film and dramas. She's worked on the hit films King and the Clown with Lee Joon Ki and Le Grand Chef. Most notably for K-drama fans, she worked on the melodrama That Winter, the Wind Blows.

Kim Soo Jin is a really charming person with an obvious passion for food. She explained that one of the meals we'd be learning, japchae, had a very long history in Korea. Originally, it was made without glass noodles (made from sweet potatoes), but that during the late Joseon era, noodles were introduced, and ever since it's been a permanent Korean food staple. The other dish we'd be making, bulgogi, was unique in that it was served with broth, allowing the flavor of the beef to be enjoyed with rice. Working on numerous film shoots, she revealed that the most challenging thing is keeping food fresh and appealing (or not, if the script warrants it) during a long day of shooting. She has to basically continually remake dishes so that they look just right in each shot!

What's the secret of making a mouth-watering Korean drama scene? It's not just a matter of having a great chef prepare the food, but also the actors, who use sound and facial expressions to really convey the flavor of foods onscreen. She developed a special friendship with actress Kim Jung Eun, with whom she studied food for 3 months to prepare her for her role in Le Grand Chef.

The most interesting thing about Korean cuisine, Kim Soo Jin said, is kimchi. There are over 200 types of kimchi, and in general it is a rich source of vitamins and minerals (particularly vitamin C). She also described the vast variety of Korean cooking ingredients. Beyond the hundreds of types of kimchi, there are about 200 types of rices and grains to choose from and combine. Add in the uncountable number of Korean side dishes (banchan) made up of vegetables, meat, and fish, and you have a fully balanced nutritional food culture. 

Kim Soo Jin offered one more piece of advice to aspiring chefs who are looking to introduce some romance into the kitchen. A great way to get closer to your crush? Teach him or her to chop vegetables! As you both hold the knife together, anything can happen...

Next, we learned how to make a few dishes on our own! I'll share the recipes, along with a few tips. Each recipe makes about one serving. Bon apetit!

Japchae (Stir-fried Glass Noodles and Vegetables):

This dish is seen a lot in Korean restaurants in the US, but in Korea it is commonly served during birthday or holiday dinners.


80 grams glass noodles

30 grams beef (top round or sirloin, or substitute pork, chicken, shrimp, squid, etc.)

Beef seasoning: 1 tsp soy sauce + 1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

1/8 tsp black pepper

1 shiitake mushroom (or substitute any mushroom)

30 grams zucchini

20 grams carrot


2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp brown or black sugar (white sugar won't give you the nice rich brown color you want)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/8 tsp black pepper

150 ml water

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

1. Boil noodles on high heat for 5 minutes. Rinse in cold water and drain. Drizzle with a bit of sesame oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

2. Pre-season beef (either thin strips or ground beef) and brown quickly over high heat.

3. Julienne mushroom, zucchini and carrot, and cook each separately in an oiled pan. This way each vegetable will keep its unique flavor. Start with the lightest colored vegetable, and go to darkest. If you are using fresh shiitake, make sure you use enough oil because it will soak up everything.

4. Make the seasoning sauce, combining sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, oil, sesame seeds, black pepper, and water.

5. In a pan, bring sauce to a boil, then add noodles. Simmer until noodles absorb all the sauce, then remove from heat.

6. Add beef, vegetables, sesame oil and sesame seeds to the pan, mix, and serve!


This is one of the most popular Korean dishes, made all around the world, although it is considered a more recent addition to Korean cuisine. In the olden days, thinly cut beef was marinated, then grilled on a gridiron, but today it's usually cooked in a pan. I was surprised at the use of pineapple juice! Canned juice is recommended for its uniform flavor.


150 grams beef (sirloin or tenderloin)

50 grams carrot

2 shiitake mushrooms (or substitute any mushroom)

1/4 onion

40 grams leek


5 Tbsp water

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp pineapple juice

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp crushed garlic

1 tsp sesame seed

1/4 tsp black pepper

1. Thinly slice beef, and remove any excess liquid with a paper towel.

2. Combine all marinade ingredients.

3. Slice carrots, onion and mushrooms. Carrots should be cut thinner than other ingredients because they take longer to cook. Try cutting the mushrooms on the diagonal for cool thin discs of shiitake!

4. Slice the leek diagonally. (It's prettier, and you'll get more flavor because there is more exposed area).

5. Combine all ingredients excepts sesame seeds, and marinate for 10 minutes.

6. In a pan, cook meat and vegetable mixture (minus the leek) for 5 minutes.

7. Add leek, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

Will you be trying these recipes? What's your favorite Korean dish? Share your thoughts in the comments!