Star chef sees jang as part of Koreans' DNA

Jang, a range of sauces or pastes made from fermented soybeans, is an important part of what makes Korean food unique, a renowned Spanish chef told The Korea Herald.

It could one day dominate the meal tables of Europeans, who are incrementally accepting fermented foods, said Quique Dacosta, a Michelin 3-star chef, during his interview with The Korea Herald last week.

"There is something about jang. You can add it anywhere and make a great Korean dish. Koreans cannot live without it and it has become part of Koreans' DNA," Dacosta said.

Dacosta says that jang reflected Korean people in many ways, especially in being patient and respecting seniority.

"The siganjang, a soy sauce inherited in noblemen's families for centuries by adding new sauce every year, epitomizes how Koreans have respected their history. The sauce, passed on from the mother-in-law to daughter-in-law through the ages, has defined the taste of (Korean) families and the country," he said.

"I've met an old man who cultivated his salt farm all his life, completely devoted to his mission. Thanks to the perseverance of men like him, Korean jang flaunts unique taste and texture," he said.

The chef of the eponymous restaurant in Spain, which has recently been upgraded from two Michelin stars, visited South Korea in search of inspiration from Korea's ingredients and environment.

He tasted regional delicacies, visited marketplaces and met craftsmen and cooks. He also met fledgling chefs in Seoul to share ideas about how Koreans use jang in their dishes.

Dacosta has been experimenting with jang alongside Korean food-maker Sempio since 2011, and has presented a slew of Spanish dishes infused with jang. He said jang had the potential to become a key global ingredient.

"With just a drop of Korean ganjang (soy sauce), anything can taste Korean. From salad dressing to soup and others they deliver more than a quantum of Korean-ness. I believe jang has a huge potential to become a global ingredient," Dacosta said.

But one thing that needs to be established is the overseas retail network, he said. Currently, domestic jang maker Sempio has been seeking to advance into the European market but is still in the very early stages in terms of creating a steady retail network.

"China and Japan have soy sauces that are widely sold in Spain, too, but finding a Korean one is quite difficult," Dacosta said, adding that he gets asked where people can easily get Korean soy sauce from fans who liked his jang dishes. "If Korean food-makers don't get into the market at the right time, they will lose their fan base to Japan or China," he said.