When you walk around Korea, you will quickly see the passion for food spilling over from stalls lining the street and small restaurants full of people noisily slurping noodles or preening away at a dish with chopsticks. I am often asked why Korean people love spicy food, but it comes naturally to us; we grow up with it, and it’s ingrained in our culture. Even Western people (my husband included) quickly become hooked on Korean cuisine once they develop a liking for the warm Korean spices.

South Koreans first discovered spicy food when chili peppers were brought to Korea from Japan in the mid 16th century. Before long Koreans developed their own unique dishes using chilis, going on to develop our own unique sauce called gochujang, a hot red pepper paste. Its popularity is spreading — gochujang can now be found in Asian markets all over the world and has been used by a number of famous chefs.Commercially produced gochujang is available anywhere in South Korea — just look for the red plastic boxes ranging in size from 200g to several kilos. However, the true secret lies in the homemade stuff. If you look deep enough in Korean markets, you can find some real homemade gochujang, made and cared for using a traditional recipe. It should be traditionally aged in Korean clay pots and have a unique pungency that when added to food, will take you to a whole new level of Korean flavor.

Some say eating spicy food can help fight obesity as it speeds up the body’s metabolism and the excretion of waste, a contributing factor to South Korea’s obesity rate of less than 5%. It’s also packed with capsaicin, the component that makes the peppers spicy and helps fight the common cold. That said, there has been medical concern about the adverse effects of too much spice, considering that South Korea has one of the highest rates of stomach cancer in the world –nearly 10 times that of the U.S. But what is life without a little risk?

Cooking with Gochujang

If you want to make spicy food at home, a good place to begin is Korean spicy pork belly known as jeyuk bokkeum, a nice warm dish that’s quick and easy to make and will certainly impress your Korean and non-Korean friends.

Jeyuk Bokkeum Ingredients:

  • 500g of Sliced Belly pork

  • 1 ½  tablespoon of gochujang

  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce

  • 3 teaspoons of sugar

If you go to a butcher in South Korea and ask for sliced belly pork, you will be given thinly sliced pork that is just right for this dish, I would cut these further in to strips and put in a bowl. To make the spicy sauce mix, you need about 1 ½ tablespoons of gochujang with 4 tablespoons of soy sauce and 3 teaspoons of sugar, add this to the bowl and mix well and allow to marinate. I like to leave it in the fridge to marinate overnight, but try to give it a few hours at least.To cook, pour the mix in to a hot pan and fry until cooked which is about 10 minutes, serve straight away with some rice and side dishes and you are sure to impress.

You can use this simple sauce with most meats like chicken or beef to create a simple fried spicy dish, or add to your bulgogi sauce for a spicy bulgogi dish.

Luna Points is the author and creator of Easy Korean Food, a site full of easy Korean recipes you can make at home.

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