The K-Cook-Off, held by the Korean American Student Association (KASA), started past noon on Saturday, December 7. I walked down to the Campus Club basement to find platters of Korean food sitting at the taproom bar and old-school K-pop blaring from the speakers. As soon as we arrived, the contestants were immediately separated into groups of about five people, each with a member of KASA to aid us in the cook-off.
The competition involved cooking/arranging the best dish out of an array of delicious Korean ingredients such as white rice, ddeock, ddeokbokki, bulgogi, kimchi, sweet egg rolls, spam, tuna and seaweed amongst various other vegetables. These ingredients, were laid out in front of us on the bar counter, but we first had to compete for the right to use the ingredients by winning points in (mostly) Korean-themed games. After two rounds of charades, a more challenging Korean version of Taboo and a round of arm-wrestling, the games were over. The teams that garnered the most points had first choice in ingredient selection.
The next few minutes were a flurry of rearrangement. As we made balled up the rice and cut up the ddeock, our team conferred amongst ourselves as to which foods would work best together (spam, egg, and namul was a combination we discovered) and which color combinations would provide the most visually appealing dish (the redness of the kimchi’s was a great addition to any dish). After time was called, each team brought their creations to three student judges, all with chopsticks in their hands to taste as well as see each team’s entry.
The judges judged evaluated each dish on three criteria: 1) Aesthetics, 2) Creativity and 3) Taste. In terms of creativity and taste, all of the entries impressed the judges, as the ingredients themselves were delicious to begin with, and the combinations that resulted were mostly well thought out. After each team had presented their creations, we were all able to reap what we had sowed, and indulge also in the catered Korean food that KASA had provided.
Not all of the combinations were successful (all dishes were at least interesting, whether in a good or bad sense) but in the end, everyone was munching happily at the rare opportunity to eat authentic Korean food (a very rare opportunity indeed in Princeton, NJ). It was no wonder that many of the people attending the event of East Asian descent—I myself (being of Japanese descent) enjoyed the chance to enjoy the authentic Asian cuisine that is often absent from college dining halls, especially the perfectly sticky white rice that reminded me so much of home.
Glossary of Some Korean Foods
Ddeock: Korean rice cakes, made with glutinous rice powder and steamed.
Ddeokbokki: A dish with rice cakes and fish cakes mixed in a sweet chili sauce.
Gochujang: A savory condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice powder and fermented soybeans.
Kimchi: A spicy, sour pickled vegetable (typically napa cabbage, radish or scallion) that is considered Korea’s national dish.
Bulgogi: Grilled, marinated, sliced steak.
Namul: Boiled, sautéed vegetables in various seasonings such as salt, vinegar, sesame oil and gochujang. Some of the namul at the cook off included soybean sprouts and spinach.