Flower rice balls, a dish developed by Cho Woo-hyun, Flora’s owner-chef. (Cho Woo-hyun)
In the month of May, flowers are given on several different occasions in Korea, often to celebrate and express gratitude.
From Parents’ Day to Teacher’s Day, flower shops are busy preparing lavish bouquets and baskets throughout what is known as Family Month.
What if such beautiful flowers can also be enjoyed as part of your meal?
An Italian restaurant and a dessert cafe in Seoul proves that flowers can indeed be a feast for the palate, not just a feast for the eyes.
Flower pizza and salad at Flora
Flora special pizza with various types of flower toppings at restaurant Flora (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
About a five-minute walk from Anguk Station Exit No. 1, you will notice an old hanok with a sign that reads “Pizza, pasta and steak.”
Stepping into Flora on a warm spring day, the awnings installed at the center terrace garden are pulled aside and the bright sunlight welcomes customers.
Their two signature dishes are the flower green salad with scallops and mushrooms, and flora special pizza.
The server introduces the name of each flower that are in the salad and pizza, making the dining experience fun and pleasant.
At first bite, the flower salad was slightly bitter and had a minty aroma.
The more you chewed on the flower petals, the softer they became, to a texture similar to that of blanched baby lettuce. Its scent was reminiscent of fresh green grass, or a mix of vegetables without any seasoning.
Although edible flowers served vary depending on the season, on the day of the visit in May, roses, pansies, dianthus flowers, chrysanthemums and snapdragons were sprinkled on top of the pizza.
Cho Woo-hyun, Italian restaurant Flora’s owner-chef, poses during an interview with The Korea Herald, Tuesday. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
“Dishes today at restaurants are getting fancier, decorated with sprinkles of gold, chocolate syrup and whipped cream,” Cho Woo-hyun, 60, owner-chef of Flora, told The Korea Herald. “I wanted to make a dish that stands out in its pure beauty, without using ingredients that have less nutritional value.”
Cho is one of the pioneering chefs in Korea who introduced a variety of edible flower dishes in Seoul in the early 2000s.
Before opening Flora in 2007, he worked as a chef at several hotels. “There were strict rules to follow at hotels and strict boundaries on which ingredients could be used in a specific type of cuisine. But I always thought a flower could be paired with any meal.”
Having seen flower decorations in French and Japanese cuisines, Cho started to delve into botany texts and foreign cookbooks on flower decorations.
Although he could not afford to go on trips to foreign countries, he would plant seeds and grow his own flowers in his small balcony at home, experimenting and tasting them with pizza, the dish he is most confident about.
“Like herbal teas having different potential health benefits, edible flowers are the same. For instance, marigold flowers are good for the eyes and lavender flowers aid digestion,” Cho said.
Braised flounder with plum blossoms, a dish by Cho Woo-hyun (Cho Woo-hyun)
The restaurant spends over 3 million won ($2,358) a month to buy different edible flowers, according to Cho. He added that it takes multiple tries and a great deal of patience to be able to recognize the unique scents and tastes of different flowers.
“My favorite (edible) flower is rosemary flower. Just like its stylish purple color, it is very standoffish. Rosemary flower only blooms once a year and for a short time. Sometimes, it will not show up at all throughout the year,” Cho said.
Although Flora focuses on Italian cuisine, Cho experiments with a variety of flower dishes, such as braised flounder with plum blossoms, or flower rice balls.
“It took three years before our customers stopped picking out the flowers on our pizzas, and started eating them. Now, our regulars know the kinds and tastes of different flowers, which is a dream come true for me and of which I am proud.” Flower dessert at Sona
Sona, a cozy dessert cafe with a modern interior, is located on the second floor of a building near Garosugil in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.
A must-try here is the champagne sugar ball, a special dessert with edible flowers.
Champagne sugar ball at dessert cafe Sona (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
The shape resembling a crystal ball, the bottom layer consists of powdered cheesecake, topped with nonalcoholic Champagne foam and fresh cherries. The outer part is coated with a thin layer of sugar.
Some of the flowers in the artlike dessert include pansy, begonia flower, elderflower and rose.
Although rich in overall flavor, the sweet-and-sour Champagne foam and minty scent of flowers make the dessert not as sweet as it seems. A special homemade syrup is served for those who want to add a touch of sweetness.
Staff at Sona recommended the chamomile tea to pair with the champagne sugar ball.
By Kim Hae-yeon (firstname.lastname@example.org