Born in PyeongChang, a South Korean chef is bringing its culinary tradition to Toronto

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    Sometimes called the ‘potato valley’ of South Korea, PyeongChang offers unique culinary traditions

    Here are roots and fruits from the Pyeongchang region, including astragalus, ginseng, red dates, glycyrrhiza uralensis and codonopsis lanceolata. (CBC/Philippe de Montigny)

    PyeongChang may be more than 10,500 kilometres from Toronto. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of the distinctive South Korean region here in the city.

    Arisu, a Korean barbecue restaurant on Bloor Street W., is offering a special menu for the duration of the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    It’s been inspired by the culinary traditions of the host city. Braised beef short rib, buckwheat noodle salad and potato pancakes are just a few of the dishes being served up.

    But one East Asian staple is conspicuously missing from the menu. There’s not a grain of rice to be found in Arisu these days. The mountainous region in and around the city of PyeongChang may be perfect for winter sports, but not for growing cereal grain.

    Arisu owner Weonsup (James) Lee grew up on a potato farm near PyeongChang. (CBC/Claude Beaudoin)

    “Almost no rice because the growing time is not enough” said Weonsup (James) Lee, the owner of Arisu. Lee grew up on a potato farm near PyeongChang.

    The region, often called the “potato valley,” also produces buckwheat, corn, mushrooms and roots such as astragalus and ginseng.

    Because potatoes were so prominent in local cuisine, the 65-year-old Lee remembers complaining about them as a young boy.

    A Pyeongchang-style barbecue dish being prepared. (CBC/Philippe de Montigny)

    “So many different styles of potato foods were served to me every day,” he recalls.

    His late mother taught him how to cook traditional dishes, experimenting with natural ingredients gathered from the mountains.

    “I learned a lot of things from my mother,” Lee said. “Her teachings, her food are still in my blood.”

    A worker at Arisu prepares salad. (CBC/Philippe de Montigny)

    Because of that personal connection, the restaurant owner says he’s “very proud” to be introducing this special menu to his fellow Torontonians.

    “I am seeing more and more people coming and they’re curious and trying,” he said.

    While it will only be offered until the end of the Paralympic Games in mid-March, Lee intends to make the PyeongChang dishes a permanent feature in his menu, if customers keep ordering them.

    You won’t find rice, but you can try this rice wine sorbet. (CBC/Philippe de Montigny)

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