Trendspotting: Korean, It’s Hot

Now, I recognize that Korean isn’t necessarily a new trend… the cuisine itself is centuries-old, and has been popping up on menus across the country for a couple years now. But, it’s a trend that’s close to my heart (and heritage) so I figured it was a good place to start.
Growing up with a native Korean mother who wanted to westernize her children, my childhood was filled with many different food experiences. We certainly didn’t eat strictly Korean, in fact it was more of an occasional occurrence in our house. {Although, dried seaweed was one of my favorite snacks growing up… I would lightly kiss it on the stove top, sprinkle with salt and enjoy. It’s the perfect combination of roasted/earthy/sea salty goodness.} In the past few years, as Korean flavors became trendy, memories of my own childhood began to emerge. Sweet and garlicky beef bulgogi, eggy scallion pancakes, the flavor explosion of bibimbap and, of course, the intoxicating stench of kim chi. Those experiences of eating and assisting in the kitchen heightened my awareness of flavor balance when cooking. After all, the Koreans have truly mastered the balance of salty/sweet/sour/spicy/umami.
A quick Korean 101… the most commonly used ingredients in Korean cooking are: sesame oil, doenjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and gochujang (fermented red chili paste).


Gochujang, which is majorly HOT right now, is one of my favorite ingredients EVER. It’s made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt and is traditionally fermented over years in large earthen pots outdoors called jangdokdae. {Talk about patience, I can barely wait for water to boil.} The deep, spicy, super savory flavor makes it a fantastic condiment… or a thickener for stews. My mom makes a fantastic sauce with Gochujang and other traditional Korean ingredients. Below is her recipe, but you can also switch out some of the ingredients to put your own twist. For example, I prefer using honey instead of sugar… maybe even a little brown sugar too.

Mama Kim's Gochujang Sauce


  • Gochujang – 3 TBSP

  • Doenjang – 1 TBSP

  • Rice Vinegar – 1 tsp

  • Sesame Oil – ½ tsp

  • Sugar – 3 TBSP

  • Sesame Seeds – 1 tsp

  • Scallions – 1 TBSP


  1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. If sauce is too thick, add more rice vinegar or splash of water.

  2. Keep sauce refrigerated after use.

For the locals, the best place to get all your Korean ingredients is Koreana Plaza in Rancho Cordova. It’s one of the oldest and largest grocery stores in California, and was recently renovated into a full international market. It’s seriously a foodie’s dream… just be prepared to SHOP, because its massive size can be a little overwhelming.