UZBEKISTAN: Koryo Saram / Koreyscha sabzili salat

There are about 500,000 ethnic Koreans living in the countries of the former Soviet Union, with the largest community in Uzbekistan, as well as Kazakhstan and Russia. This community is called Koryo Saram, and it is different from the Sakhalin Korean community on the Russian east coast.

The Koryo Saram are the descendants of Koreans who had fled to Russia during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Most had initially settled the the Russian Far East, but in 1937, as tensions worsened between the USSR and Japan with the start of the Sino-Japanese War, Stalin ordered ethnic Koreans to be forcibly relocated to Central Asia. The survivors (about 1/3 died in the deportation) settled in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and eventually built new lives.

Here’s a great interview with Victoria Kim, who grew up in Uzbekistan, on her studies into the Korean diaspora in Central Asia and her own family’s history – her grandfather survived the 1937 deportation as a little boy. She covers both the experience in Uzbekistan, and the further history of Koreans in the Soviet Union – including the Korean War.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Koryo Saram returned to Korea. Below is an interesting interview with a young man who is 4th generation Koryo Saram – he was born in Uzbekistan and Russian is his first language, but his family moved to South Korea when he was 14 and he’s caught in both a cultural and legal limbo. Koryo Saram who wish to return to Korea are only considered Korean to the 3rd generation, meaning his parents count as Korean, but legally he is a foreigner.

While many Koryo Saram don’t speak Korean and are largely integrated into Uzbek society, one of their very notable influences on Uzbekistan is the big culinary influence. Kimchi is immensely popular in Uzbekistan, and many Korean dishes are on the menu – often adapted to the ingredients and spices available in Central Asia.

I figured I’d make a Koryo Saram recipe – called koreyscha sabzili salat (Korean carrot salad) in Uzbek. It’s also called morkovcha (“morkov” is Russian for carrot and “cha” from a Korean suffix for salads). It’s eaten all through the former Soviet Union, but this recipe at Zen Kimchi comes from Uzbekistan.

This recipe uses some typically Korean ingredients – hot peppers, sesame seeds, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar – but the base of carrots and the leading place of coriander as the main seasoning makes it much more more Central Asian. Letting it sit overnight really brings the flavours together. It’s spicy and garlicky – it’s a nice side dish and a good way to dress carrots.

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