Considering that I posted the first half of this a good six months ago…maybe we’ll make this a bi-annual thing.
So here we go! and this time, some of the pictures (the terrible ones) I took myself! With a camera I bought used in Brisbane over Christmas. I won’t be able to cover all of the food I’ve sampled over the intervening months in this post, but hang in there for six more months and I’ll do this again! (?) What I am saying is I won’t be caught up until I am in my 50s. (I eat A LOT.)
(It should be noted that I got started writing this before dinner, having jogged 5k this morning and then eaten nothing but spinach for lunch [to be fair it was absolutely delicious spinach].)
1. Andong Jjimdak. I’m going to list some ingredients here, and ask you to stop me when we breach optimum deliciousness. Chicken. Potato. Cucumber. Carrot. Spinach. Scallions. Noodles. Garlic. Chile peppers. Sesame. Ginger. And what I can only assume is CRACK because this stuff, it is insanely addictive. It will burn, burn. burn, a ring of fire, IN YOUR MOUTH, and you will not be able to stop consuming it. I don’t know what goes into that sweet, tangy, spicy brown sauce, and generally you wouldn’t think that chicken legs and noodles would pair so well, but oh, I promise you, they do. I like to name this as one of my three favorite foods in class (I know, three, right? who do I think I’m kidding.) and the kids are always SO impressed that I, a hapless Miguk-in, can handle the heat of Andong jjimdak. But fear not, wussy readers. You can tone down the heat when you order.
Andong jjimdak (named after the city from which it is supposed to have originated) also provides a nice segue into a brief discussion of one of the most underutilized utensils in American cooking: the scissors. In Korean, gawi. I don’t know why, but Koreans love using shears on their food, and it’s the most effective, convenient way to deal with difficult cuisine. I’ve used them to snip unmanageably leafy kimchi, unreasonably long buckwheat and rice noodles (their application for A-Jj.), and to get to the sweet, meaty center of a Pohang crab leg. Seriously, Americans, why don’t we use scissors at the table more often, or ever? It’s the best thing!
2. Samgyetang. Along with A-Jj., one of the dishes I cite to my students as a ‘favorite.’ And oh, oh oh. Imagine the greatest chicken soup in the world, and imagine flushing it down the toilet, because samgyetang is insulted by other chicken soups. (Flushing it would be a bit of an overreaction. maybe just give it to someone hungry and don’t tell them that you’re about to have samgyetang, because that would be a little insulting to them.)
Samgyetang is a soup composed of a whole (small) chicken, stuffed with rice and ginseng, and green onions, served in boiling chicken broth in a stone pot with a ladle. Like all Korean food, its arrival is preceded by pickled radish, kimchi, and garlic cloves in soybean paste. When the cauldron of soup arrives, ladle into the chicken and scoop meat, rice, bones, broth and all into a separate bowl, where you season to your taste with coarse-ground salt and cracked pepper. It’s the most comforting of comfort foods, and I think that has something to do with the whole salting-and-peppering-it-yourself business. Oddly (to me) samgyetang is supposed to be eaten during the hottest days of the year, in order to trick your body into cooling itself down? or something. To me, though, it’s the perfect end-of-winter, why-am-I-still-so-cold fixer upper meal.
3. Kimbap. The short explanation is that this is Korean sushi, but it’s not actually sushi at all, more like really healthy fast food. Kimbap is extremely versatile: it’s rice and radish and egg and cucumber and carrot and mushroom and sometimes meat or tuna or kimchi rolled in seaweed and sliced into little rounds. OH PLUS it is SUPER cheap. One serving–two rolls–generally comes to about three bucks, and I can make two meals out of it. There are cheap kimbap shops everywhere in Korean cities, and I’ve seen it sold on moutainsides as excellent climbing nourishment. I would argue that kimbap could be considered Korea’s answer to the sandwich, just from the sheer variety of preparations and fillings.
A few weeks ago I went on a kimbap kick; I could not would not stop eating the stuff. Unfortunately that came to an abrupt end when I came down with a stomach bug and got to experience kimbap in reverse. it’s less pleasant that way. I haven’t had any since. I hold out hope that our relationship resumes its course in the future.
4. Coffee. Don’t have a heart attack, Mom/anyone who knew me in America. It’s the concept of addiction I hated about coffee in the States, an aversion to ‘needing’ any substance to function during the day (with the exceptions of food, water, and sleep). But I was not prepared for Korea: who could ever be averse to this?
I know that technically coffee shouldn’t count as a Korean culinary adventure but coffeeshop culture is such a huge and recent phenomenon over here that I feel the mention is warranted. Plus. It’s adorable. Korean coffee tends to be much less bitter and acidic than coffee I have had elsewhere. As a non-aficionado (Ihave friends who like to say things like ‘oaky undertones’ or ‘notes of blueberry’ about coffee, and that is not me. you guys) that is really all I am equipped to say about it. Except to confess that really, the appeal of Korean coffee is in the presentation as much as in the coffee itself. I have found a new Favorite Thing in caffe mochas, however.
5. Hwedupbap. Sashimi, red leaf lettuce, sesame leaves, assorted vegetables and toppings (depending on the season and the chef) served over rice with chogochujang (sweet and spicy red chile sauce) to liberally anoint the whole. My favorite preparation included lightly dressed cucumbers and masago caviar (I’M FANCY), with sesame seeds sprinkled all over the lettuce and sashimi. It’s essentially bibimbap with raw fish, and is one of the most refreshing Korean meals I have yet tasted.
I haven’t written about bibimbap yet? I AM A DISGRACE. I’ll get to that…in about six months.