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1.054 Pork and Chive Stir-Fry


-Cycle 1, Item 54-
28 (Sun) February 2010

-Chinese-
Pork and Chive Stir-Fry

* * * *

at Pung-Mi ^

-Chinatown, Incheon-

Upon returning to port from last night's island camping trip, MtG and I decided to take the opportunity of being in the neighborhood to visit the Chinatown in Incheon for dinner.  It's just a couple alleys with a handful of restaurants.  Unlike most Chinatowns throughout the world, however, this one isn't Cantonese or really even Chinese.  The food is the same Koreanized fare found everywhere across the country.  The one unique item that reportedly can only be found here is original yellow bean sauce jjajang myeon (짜장면), the way that it's made in China.  Incidentally, the black bean sauce version--arguably the most common Chinese/delivery/fastfood item in Korea--was invented/developed/popularized around the turn of the 20th century in Incheon by Chinese immigrants coming through the port city, where fermented black beans were more readily available than the yellow.  Anyway, we were disappointed to learn that the restaurant that we'd chosen didn't stock the ingredients for the yellow stuff on weekends, supposedly because the swarms of visitors, mostly from Seoul, never order it.  Why anyone would travel so far to eat stuff that they could get back home--literally, at home, delivered--is beyond me.

1.053 Franks & Beans

-Cycle 1, Item 53-
27 February 2010

-American-
Franks & Beans

* * * *

by me

at Guleopdo
[campsite]

-Guleopdo, GyeongGi-

The backpack is symbolic of Korean camping culture in two respects: first, Korean campers eat Korean food, always and only and completely, which means a full spread of meat, kimchi, rice, dipping pastes, soup/stew, and various banchan, not to mention the booze, thus necessitating packs of enormous carrying capacity that may appear excessive if not ludicrous to outsiders (other factors may also account for the large bags, as discussed below); and second, Korean campers are obsessed with brands, especially expensive brands, especially expensive brands that all the other Korean campers are using.


In New York last summer, I spent a lot of time at Paragon Sports, one of the biggest retailers of sporting goods in the city. Although I had been a car camper for some time, I wanted to broaden my horizons beyond the safe and comfortable confines of commercial campsites. The first order of business was to acquire an appropriate pack. When I explained to the sales rep that I would likely be going on short trips, usually overnighters but occasionally as long as three nights, he pointed me towards packs between 50-60 liters, designed for trips as long as five days. When I asked what the 80-100 liter packs were for, he said that they were for extended excursions, like month-long backpacking vacations around Europe. But after filling a 60-liter pack with various display gear around the store, such as a small tent, sleeping bag, pot, etc., I couldn't imagine how food and drinks and particularly booze could fit on top of it all. With a slightly puzzled look on his face, the sales rep replied that camping foodstuffs--by which he meant beef jerky, nuts, maybe condensed soup--don't take up much volume and Why would you take alcohol on a backpacking trip?!?! In the end, though still somewhat skeptical, I selected the Osprey Atmos 65.

Fast-forward to the present, I was packing for my first backcountry camping trip and concluded to myself that I had made the right choice in the backpack, at least as far as size was concerned. Even with the extra layers of winter clothing, I still had sufficient room for canned beans, some hot dogs, a package of ramyun, a Ziplock bag of homemade penne and tomato sauce, a couple slices of cheese pizza from Costco, a pouch of almonds, a liter of water, a couple cans of Diet Coke, and a half-liter of tequila in a recycled Evian bottle. It would later turn out that my tent (Sierra Design Light Year 1) and sleeping bag (Kovea Traveler III) were wholly inadequate for the weather conditions, which means that the space taken up by a proper winter tent and thicker bag would've left me with significantly less room for food and beverages.

When I arrived at Incheon Ferry Terminal--the trip was for Guleopdo (굴업도), which requires two boat rides, with a stop in between at Deokjeokdo (덕적도), I was in for a whopping surprise, a cultural shock of sorts. At 65 liters, my Osprey Atmos was the smallest pack of the bunch. MtG had the next smallest with the Gregory Baltoro 70, while our other companion Jun had the next smallest with the Gregory Palisades 80. Beyond the three of us, the other members of the group had brought packs in excess of 100 liters apiece, such as the Mystery Ranch Kodiak: 114 liters (7000 cubic inches). Holy crap. What the hell did I forget to pack? I thought I'd secured all the essentials, but these guys had nearly double the capacity, and their bags were packed to the brim, and they were experts or at least experienced, so they must've known something that I didn't. My friends, who were also new to this, were similarly perplexed.

It turns out that the secret of what is in those gargantuan packs,in some cases, is rather disappointingly simple. For the most part, the bags are filled with air--literally. As they explained with great enthusiasm and not a hint of embarrassment, the guy takes his inflatable mattress and, instead of deflating it and rolling it up, pumps it full of air and scrolls it within the internal perimeter of the pack to form a padded frame. Then, in addition to the tent and other necessary gear, the guy stuffs goose down parkas, puffy "tent" shoes, and other light but voluminous items to fill out the pack. Essentially, it's the camping equivalent of stuffing a sock down one's trousers.

On the other hand, some campers had stuffed their packs with all manner of food and beverages, as well as cooking equipment. As to whether that amount of eats and drinks is reasonable, the answer depends on one's cultural perspective. One guy pulled out a whole roaster-size chicken and a massive stock pot to make chicken stew for dinner, enough to feed four. He would also make clam soup, also enough for four. Whole chicken and clams. Other than rack of lamb, I can't imagine menu choices with worse weight-to-food ratios. And this for the sake of feeding strangers. What an idiot.

1.050 Grilled Beef Jumulleok

-Cycle 1, Item 50-
24 February 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Beef Jumulleok

* * * *

at Choshim Hanwoo (초심한우)

-Seongnam (Bundang), GyeongGi-

Thickly sliced beef in sesame-soy marinade, jumulleok (주물럭) is similar to bulgogi (불고기) in taste but with more emphasis on the sesame oil, making it more savory. The name of the dish comes from the Korean word for "massage" in reference to the idea that the marinade is kneaded into the meat.

In recent times, jumulleok has largely disappeared from the restaurant scene. Back in the 80s, it was all the rage. In a prior post on bulgogi, I wrote about a "growing belief that good beef is better consumed as is and that marinades are more appropriate for cheap cuts that require masking or tenderizing of some sort" (see 1.003 Bulgogi), which may apply here. In fact, when I suggested that we order it, my father was suspicious.

On Day 50, a milestone that holds no significance beyond roundness, I will analyze the numbers thus far. Surprisingly, 24 of the meals were Korean in some form. I'd always thought that, despite living here, I ate very little of the local fare on a daily basis--well, 24 is certainly and significantly less than the average Korean, who I would imagine would probably have dined Korean for 48 meals during the same period. American, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican each had 5 entries, which sounds about right. Next, the 34/16 at-home/eating-out ratio is probably somewhat of an aberration, as I'm currently on winter break and thus at home with more time to cook than I would/will be during the semester, which starts next week. Finally, with respect to meats, I'm not surprised that chicken was on top with 15 entries, though I am concerned that beef was next with 14. I'm aware that I do eat a lot of red meat, which is difficult to avoid in this country, but I'd been vaguely attempting to reduce my consumption for health reasons (in case the booze and cigarettes don't kill me first). I'd always considered myself a seafood guy, but apparently I'm just meat and potatoes.

Although I hadn't anticipated that Project 365 would change my eating habits, it has in at least 3 ways. First, it's become a daily obsession to find something--an identifiable, describable meal--to eat for dinner, not just picking at random leftovers from the fridge. Second, I've tried to keep the meals as varied as possible, both in terms of national origin and ingredients. And third, no matter how mundane or unglamorous, I've aspired to present each meal (and photograph it) in a respectful light--admittedly, this has more to do with personal vanity than respect for the food. That said, I haven't eaten anything per se that I normally wouldn't, just more frequently and in a nicer manner.

However, I think that maybe I should reduce my red meat intake. More lobster.

1.049 Dal Makhani


-Cycle 1, Dinner 49-
23 February 2010

-Indian-
Dal Makhani

* * * *

at Everest

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-

Hands down, Everest is my favorite Indian joint in the city. Given the name of the place, as well as the accoutrement on display throughout the premises, the restaurant has clear ties to Nepal, but the menu is predominantly Indian; either way, the two countries share a lot of commonality in terms of cuisine. Located in a small alley across the street from Dongdaemun, this humble establishment has excellent food at prices so low, around 8000 won for a curry (around US$6) that we've decided it's better just not to think about how they cut their costs. Some of the items on the menu that require some finesse, like Chicken Tikka, are less than stellar, but no one's complaining because it's so cheap at 10,000 won a plate. They also serve draft beer at the pre-turn-of-the-millenium cost of 2,000 for 500cc, as well as soju for 3,000.

Another indication of the owner's business savvy is that he and his entire staff speak Korean, fairly well, which is still unusual in most foreign-owned/run restaurants here, where English is standard, a sometimes awkward convenience when both the customer and server don't really speak the language.

For any or all of these reasons, the restaurant is usually at or near or over capacity, especially at dinner time on weekends, filled with both locals and expats.

1.048 Sundae & Ddeokbokki


-Cycle 1, Item 48-
22 February 2010

-Korean-
Sundae & Ddeokbokki (순대 & 떡볶기)

3.0

from unnamed food cart (near exit 4 of Oksu Station) [takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Sundae (순대) is a Korean blood sausage.   A staple at the ubiquitous, though regrettably diminishing street food carts scattered throughout the city, it primarily consists of glass noodles, mass produced in a factory, probably in China nowadays, considered the "cheaper" variety, usually sold at 2,000 won per serving--a price that's been remarkably immune to inflation for at least a decade.  The other, "fancier" and therefore more expensive kind, maybe as much as 15,000 won per plate, is primarily made of glutinous rice, often by hand and sold in specialty restaurants, usually in a soup.  Hands down, I prefer the first kind, not only because it's more readily available but also because it has a cleaner flavor and lighter texture than its spicier, denser high-end cousin.  Both are typically served with additional tidbits of pig, such as liver, lung, heart, and the occasional ear or two.

Although sundae is usually served with coarse salt on the side as a dip, I prefer it with ddeokbokki (떡볶기) sauce. (I'll reserve commenting on ddeokbokki, spicy rice cakes, the quintessential street food of Korea, for another day.)

I live near Oksu (subway) Station, where 5 of these food carts are clustered near exit 4.  Having lived in the neighborhood on and off since 1997, I've had ample opportunity to sample them all.  The best one by far is the one closest to the exit.

1.047 Fusilli with String Beans in Clam Chowder

MEAL 1.047
21 February 2010

-American-
Fusilli with String Beans
in Clam Chowder

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

Here in Korea, I can tell 'em it's clams in cream sauce, which is essentially what clam chowder is, I guess, and no one bats an eye. And they love it. I don't think the average Korean even knows what clam chowder is, much less that it's available by the can. One of the most effective cheats in my repertoire.


1.046 Tong Dak

-Cycle 1, Item 46-
20 (Sat) February 2010

-Korean-
Tong Dak

3.0

at Yeongyang Center

-Sinsa, Seoul-

The term "tong dak" literally means "whole (tong) chicken (dak)."  It typically refers to a whole chicken that's been deep-fried or roasted via electric rotisserie, which is the more common method these days.    

Yeongyang Center is a landmark Korean chicken restaurant.  The official English name is "Nutrition Center."  The house specialties are samgye tang and rotisserie tong dak, which may have been introduced to the country by this very restaurant.  Established in 1960.  Original location in Myeong-Dong (still around?), a branch in Sinsa/Apgujeong.

The tong dak at Yeongyang Center is awesome.  Crispy skin.  Juicy meat.  Simple as can be.  Excellent with beer.  I've been enjoying it as far back high school at least--and yes, with beer.  

1.045 Mackerel Jorim with Pan-Fried Tofu

-Cycle 1, Item 45-
19 February 2010

-Korean-
Mackerel Jorim
with Pan-Fried Tofu

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

While "jorim" (조림) means "braised," the term is most often used in the context of fish braised with radish chunks in soy sauce and gochujang (고추장). The fish is almost always one of the following three: mackerel ("godeung-eo") (고등어), pike mackerel ("ggongchi") (꽁치), or hairtail ("galchi")(갈치). And usually, the dish is served with rice.

Here, in lieu of rice, I went with pan-fried tofu--not typical but an entirely acceptable substitute.

1.044 Lamb + Chicken Kebabs


-Cycle 1, Dinner 44-
18 February 2010

-Turkish-
Lamb + Chicken Kebabs

3.0

at Sultan Kebabs

-Itaewon, Seoul-

My general understanding of the word "kebab," based on years of vague and infrequent and not particularly invested observation, is that it refers to Turkish/Middle Eastern-style roast meat.

In Korea, recently, I've been pleased to see that kebab is becoming quite the popular fast food item, if only in Itaewon and if only to expats. At first, they were sold by dark skinned men of unknown national origin from the back of pickup trucks that would show up sometime after 10 PM somewhere along the main drag by Hamilton Hotel. Typically chicken at first, perhaps anticipating that locals weren't yet ready for lamb, but eventually offering both varieties, served on a flour tortilla with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and onions, some kind of white yogurt-based sauce, and some kind of red hella spicy sauce, and sold for 4,000 won a pop. Now, Itaewon has at least 4 kebab "restaurants," by which I mean that the place is indoors, has a counter and cash register, maybe a few chairs, and sells bottled Coke from a refrigerator, but the food is otherwise exactly the same, both in terms of variety and taste.

1.043 Bibim Bap


-Cycle 1, Item 43-
17 (Wed) February 2010

-Korean-
Bibim Bap

3.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Bibim bap is a Korean rice and vegetable dish.  It consists of at least 2-3, as many as 6-8, various namul (나물) (stringy/shredded vegetables usually parboiled and seasoned in sesame oil)--such as spinach, zucchini, fern brake, carrot, as well as many indigenous greens--carefully arranged in a large bowl around a serving of rice, topped with gochujang (고추장) (red chili paste), and then stirred into an indiscernible mishmash prior to consumption.  In fact, the name breaks down as "bibim (비빔)" = "mixed" and "bap (밥)" = "rice."  Some variations also include meat and/or a fried egg.  No two recipes are ever the same.  In terms of worldwide recognition, bibim bap is probably Korea's third most famous food.  Only the ubiquitous kimchi and various types of grilled meats often referred to collectively as "Korean barbecue" are probably better known.

1.040 Seafood Shabu Shabu


-Cycle 1, Item 40-
14 (Sun) February 2010

-Japanese-
Seafood Shabu Shabu

* * * * *

by my mother

at my uncle's cabin

-Hoengseong, Gangwon-

Whereas Japanese shabu shabu traditionally and most commonly involves beef as the primary meat component (see generally 1.008 Beef Shabuki), my mother likes to use seafood, such as shrimp, oysters, octopus, and mussels.  I've never seen nor heard of it being done this way in Japan, but seafood would seem to be a reasonable variation.  In any case, the resulting broth, after everything has been which of course ends up being used for noodle soup and rice porridge, is much lighter in character yet no less rich in flavor than one derived from beef.

This time, she prepared her seafood shabu shabu spread for everyone from the maternal side of the family, who'd gathered to celebrate the lunar new year at my uncle's cabin in Hoengseong--ironically, the most famous beef-producing region in the country.  

1.039 Pan-Fried Samgyeopsal with Doenjang Jjigae


- Cycle 1, Item 39-
13 (Sat) February 2010

-Korean-
Pan-Fried Samgyeopsal
with Doenjang Jjigae

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Just another last-minute fry-up of pork bellies from the freezer, also known as samgyeopsal (삼겹살) (see generally 1.005 Grilled Samgyeopsal), again with doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) as before (see most recently 1.028 Grilled Samgyeopsal).

1.038 Nasi Goreng with Chicken

-Cycle 1, Item 38-
12 February 2010

-Indonesian-
Nasi Goreng with Chicken

from Costco
[ready-to-go]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

According to Wikipedia, nasi goreng is the "national dish of Indonesia" (see Wikipedia's entry for nasi goreng). The name literally means "fried" (goreng) "rice" (nasi) and refers to all manner of fried rice dishes containing various ingredients made in the Indonesian or Malay style.

The nasi goreng is one of the better ready-to-eat meals offered at Costco, although it seems like an odd item to be sold at Costco and at Costco Korea in particular. In the years shopping at Costco in the States, I can't recall ever seeing anything even remotely like this, so I'm now wondering if this dish is unique to Korean Costcos or perhaps to Costco branches in Asia, wherever they may be.

1.037 Yangjangpi


-Cycle 1, Item 37-
11 February 2010

-Chinese-
Yangjangpi (양장피)

3.5

by Dongbuk Hweo-Gweo-Wang (동북 훠궈 왕)

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-

Yangjangpi (양장피) is a Chinese dish.  The name refers to the glass noodles made of potato starch.  Typically, the noodles are topped with sliced pork and seafood (e.g., shrimp, jellyfish, squid), vegetables (e.g., cucumber, carrot, onion), egg ribbons, and a spicy mustard sauce, all tossed together just before eating.  Kind like a salad, served at room temperature and chock full of fresh veggies, but the pork and seafood and certainly the noodles provide substance.  Although a popular choice in the Korean-Chinese tradition, I've never seen yangjangpi  on a menu in Chinese restaurants elsewhere in the world.  Maybe it's just called something else. 

Indeed, yangjangpi is one of the Top Seven Most Popular Chinese Dishes in Korea.  I'll describe the others as they come up.

This restaurant, Dongbuk Hweo-Gweo Wang (동북훠궈왕), may very well be my favorite Chinese joint in the city. As the name suggests, it specializes in hweo-gweo, which literally means "hot pot" and refers to the Chinese version of shabu shabu, one difference being the pot itself, split in two, half with a spicy broth and the other mild. Another difference is the main ingredient, lamb, a seemingly unusual meat for a Chinese establishment, but not really. In fact, dongbuk means "northeast" (actually, "eastnorth"), which presumably refers to the northeast region of China that borders Mongolia and Central Asia, where lamb is of course a popular animal (to eat). The restaurant's other specialty is lamb skewers barbecued at the table over hot coals. But we never get the lamb skewers or the hweo-gweo, just the "secondary" dishes that most customers order as sides. Which brings me to the wang part of the name: it means "king." Although some of these dishes, like yangjangpi, are similar to those found in mainstream Korean-Chinese places throughout Korea, most of the menu items are refreshingly not.  It's all cheap, most dishes around between 12,000-15,000 won, though some seafood dishes run around 30,000. The booze is cheap, too--maybe too cheap, we sometimes wonder. And it's all excellent, the dishes that I've tried.

1.036 Oven-Fried Chicken


-Cycle 1, Item 36-
10 (Wed) February 2010

-American-
Oven-Fried Chicken

1.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Now that I think about it, "oven-fried" doesn't make any sense. I suppose the idea is to get chicken with the texture of deep-frying but without the hassle and, perhaps, the health concerns. But ultimately, all the work of breading the bird, which included loads of butter and oil to mimic the taste of actual fried chicken, was more of a pain, though nowhere near the actual taste, and, probably, just as bad for the arteries. After one bite, I discarded the skins, which were kinda greasy icky, and just ate the flesh, which was also kinda greasy icky.  Just barely 2 stars.

I like light cooking but definitely not heavy dishes made light.

1.035 Ebi Tempura with Oden Nabe


-Cycle 1, Item 35-
9 February 2010

-Japanese-
Ebi Tempura with Oden Nabe

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

The shrimp ("ebi") tempura were ready-made, just requiring a quick deep-fry in oil.

The fishcake ("oden") stew ("nabe") was also ready-made, just requiring a quick boil in hot water.  I added a couple rice cakes and asparagus cuts.  

1.033 Baeksuk with Parboiled Broccoli

-Cycle 1, Dinner 33-
7 February 2010

-Korean-
Baeksuk (백숙)
with Parboiled Broccoli

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Exactly the same thing as 11 days ago (see 1.022 Baeksuk), but this time with the chicken torn into strips.

1.032 Jjajang Myeon and Assorted Dimsum


-Cycle 1, Item 32-
6 (Sat) February 2010

-Chinese-
Jjajang Myeon and Assorted Dimsum


* * *

at Western China

-Hannam, Seoul-

Dimsum in Korea has a long way to go.  The first problem is that it's still a relatively marginalized aspect of the Chinese food scene here, found only in a few restaurants scattered throughout the city, and even then just a handful of varieties offered as appetizers.  Second, it's expensive, somewhere around 8,000 won per plate, typically for 3 dumplings or spring rolls.  And third, the main gripe is that it simply isn't very good--bland, devoid of the basic aromatics necessary for proper Cantonese cuisine, amounting to little more than Korean mandu served in bamboo steamers.  I suspect that they know how to do it right, but they dumb it down for fear that Korean customers won't like the authentic version.  It's the same mentality that keeps cilantro out of salsa.

The jjajang myeon (see generally 1.012 Jjajng Myeon) was okay.

1.031 Another Typical Korean At-Home Meal


-Cycle 1, Item 31-
5 February 2010

-Korean-
Another Typical Korean At-Home Meal

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


Exactly what I said before (see 1.015 A Typical Korean At-Home Meal).

Top row from left: spicy odeng, seasoned spinach, kimchi. Center row from left: dried laver, pan-fried tofu, edamame, pan-fried mackerel. Bottom row from left: steamed rice, doenjang-guk (된장국) (bean paste soup).

1.030 Beef & Asparagus Fajitas


-Cycle 1, Item 30-
4 (Thu) February 2010

-Mexican-
Beef & Asparagus Fajitas

2.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

For big parties, Mexican usually works well in various formats: in advance (e.g., burritos), in bulk (e.g., enchiladas), or in advance and in bulk for leisurely self-assembly upon arrival (e.g., fajitas).

For some reason, when the wife told me that she wanted to invite a group of her coworkers over for dinner, I volunteered to cook.  I didn't want to really hang out with them, however, much less serve them, so I prepared various fixings for fajitas and laid them out for everyone to make their own.  (Meanwhile, I'd invited MtG over, who kept me company in the kitchen, while the wife entertained her guests in the living room.)  The beef was a bit tough, but the rest was okay.  

1.029 Beef & Spinach Lasagna

-Season 1, Supper 029-
3 (Wed) February 2010

-Italian-
Beef & Spinach Lasagna

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

* * *

Try as I might, I can't recall ever having eaten lasagna in a restaurant. In fact, I can't recall ever having eaten a lasagna other than one made by my mom, or me, which is essentially from the same thing. So, without any point of comparison, I can't really say whether my mom's, or mine, even resemble real lasagna. But we use a combination of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses, along with ground beef and tomato sauce, which seem to be typical ingredients that I've seen listed in cookbook recipes, so we're probably not too far off the mark. In any event, the lasagnas usually taste pretty good, regardless of authenticity.

This time, I tried adding fresh spinach. I guess I didn't drain enough of the liquid, because the end product was a bit bland, somewhat watery. And maybe it was because I used whole leafs, as opposed to chopping the spinach, it all didn't hold together too well.

1.028 Pan-Grilled Samgyeopsal


-Cycle 1, Item 28-
2 (Tue) February 2010

-Korean-
Pan-Grilled Samgyeopsal


* * * *


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Yes, Koreans in Korea do enjoy "Korean BBQ" at home, but it's usually a simple affair.   The meat is likely to be plain samgyeopsal (pork bellies) in a frying pan over a portable burner or preferably on a grill plate built with a gutter to drain the fat.  Unlike the king's spread of sides offered in restaurants, the home setup is usually more humble: a plate of kimchi, sesame oil and salt for dipping, maybe some greens for wrapping (e.g., lettuce, perilla leafs), and a broth dish, (e.g., doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) (made from a bean paste similar to Japanese miso) (as here)).  Quick, easy, cheap, tasty, healthy(?).

1.027 Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail with Steamed Rice [includes recipe]


-Cycle 1, Item 27-
1 (Mon) February 2010

-Korean-
Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail with Steamed Rice [includes recipe]

3.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

In Korean cooking, two criteria qualify a soup dish as a "jjigae" (찌개), a term which is usually translated as "stew" in English: (i) the ratio of solid ingredients to broth--the less liquid the better; and (ii) the amount of seasoning in the broth and the resulting intensity thereof--the more intense the better. For example, kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) features a dense broth made with a lot of kimchi, as well as the salty, spicy juice runoff in the container, whereas kimchi guk (김치국) is a relatively simple soup made with just a few pieces of kimchi alone, which results in a more watery broth with a hint of kimchi flavor. Unlike tang (탕), a category of Korean soup that first requires making a stock, as discussed in a prior post (see 1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang), jjigae is usually made by combining all the ingredients in a single pot and boiling them together for a few minutes just prior to serving. Jjigae is almost always served with rice, either as a main dish or as part of a larger spread.

Getting back to kimchi jjigae, a stew made with Korea's most ubiquitous food item, it's one of the most common types of jjigae across the country, be it in a restaurant or at home. In addition to kimchi, most offerings also include some meat component, typically sliced pork but sometimes canned tuna or pike mackerel, along with tofu. Everyone has a different recipe and method. Mine is found below.

----

Recipe for Kimchi Jjigae
(serves 2)

100 g pork
400 g kimchi (2 fistfuls, about 1/5 head of cabbage)
1.5 tbsp sesame oil
4 cups water
1/2 cup kimchi juice
salt, ground white pepper, sugar to taste

1. Slice pork into strips or bite-sized chunks and saute in medium saucepan on medium-low heat with half tablespoon of oil for 2 minutes until brown. [a]

2. Remove most of kimchi stuffing (i.e., sliced radish, minced garlic, and other condiments), slice cabbage into bite-sized pieces, add to pot with remaining oil, and saute for another 5 minutes until kimchi begins to wilt and darken. [b] [c]

3. Add water and kimchi juice, bring to boil, simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. [d]

4. Season with salt, white pepper, sugar to taste. [e] [f]

5. Serve with steamed rice.

NOTES

[a] Although the exact cut of pork isn't important, one with an extremely high fat content is preferable, such as pork bellies. Rather than the meat per se, the fat renders into the broth to add depth of flavor.

[b] The most important thing is to use richly seasoned and spiced kimchi that has fermented to the point where it's distinctly sour, not one of the whiter versions marketed to non-Koreans; often, the kimchi for stew has been fermenting for an extended period, sometimes a year or more, sometimes for that very purpose. Technically, new kimchi would work, but the results just wouldn't be the same--the difference between cucumbers and pickles; no self-respecting cook would ever use new kimchi for stew.

[c] As for the stuffing, some cooks toss everything into the pot, which would certainly add additional flavors, but personally I feel that the broth gets too messy with all the bits and pieces floating around; a good quality kimchi has enough flavor on its own.

[d] The "kimchi juice" refers to the red liquid in the kimchi jar.

[e] The amount of salt depends on how rich the kimchi was to begin with. The amount of white pepper is a matter of preference; black pepper will also do, but the aroma of the white variety pairs well with the other spices. The amount of sugar, which balances out acidity, depends on how sour the kimchi was to begin with--just enough so that the broth isn't sharp, but not so much that it becomes even mildly sweet.

[f] At this point, the jjigae is done. A few cubes of firm tofu may be added a few minutes prior to the end, as well as a handful of chopped leeks or green onions for garnish, but none of these is necessary. The kimchi and pork should be tender. The broth should be slightly tart but rich and a bit thick.