Elwood 5566

Transformed by a Weed – Shepherd’s Purse with Kimchi Stew (냉이 김치 찌개)

Posted in Food and Drink, Kimchi Gone Fusion, recipes for Kimchi by 노강호 on June 26, 2012

Key Features: an excellent side dish or main meal, adaptable and healthy

Kimchi Jjigae is one of the most common dishes on the Korean peninsula and while the main ingredients are basically the same, tuna, saury and pork are often added. And you can just as easily omit them! Koreans eat kimchi jjigae all the year around but for westerners used to dreary, dark, grey winters, this stew would be considered a seasonal companion. As with other foods which stew cabbage kimchi, the older the kimchi the better. You can use fresh kimchi but the taste is far richer and with a greater depth if your kimchi is nice and sour.

Like many similar Korean foods, the recipe is very adaptable and you can easily jiggle it about and experiment. This recipe uses shepherd’s purse which while in Korea is probably classified as a herb, in the UK, is most definitely an irksome weed – especially if you are into lawns. Shepherd’s purse has quite an amazing taste and a small amount can transform kimchi jjigae into another dish. If you were to add the same amount of parsley to jjigae the effect would not be as marked as to warrant including ‘parsley’ in the recipe title.

MY DEFINITIVE RECIPE

1 cup = 180ml. T=tablespoon (15ml), d=dessert spoon (10ml) t=teaspoon (5ml) 

This recipe is ideal for one, or as a side dish – double ingredients for each additional person

SHOPPING LIST

Pork, any cut about the size of a large dice though you can add more. Chop into small pieces. Conversely, you can leave it out altogether.

2T Wine (any will do though I prefer rice wine)

1d Soy Sauce (간장)

1d Sesame oil

1 cube (4 cloves) of crushed garlic.

1d Sugar or corn syrup (물엿)

Half a cup of onion, or leek and straw mushrooms (this could be substituted), all finely chopped

0.5t of dashida (다시다) or a stock cube

1t of sesame powder

1T of red pepper paste (고추장)

1t Red pepper powder (고추가루), depending on taste

Half a cup of Kimchi (sour is preferable), chopped

Tofu, cut to about the size of six small dice cubes

Shepherd’s purse (냉이) about a third of a cup.

Sesame seeds for garnish

3-4 cups of water

See also suggested accompaniments at the bottom of the page.

EQUIPMENT

Ideally as an earthenware pot or ‘ttukbeki’ (뚝배기) or a heavy bottomed sauce pan.

RECIPE

Make a marinade with:

1. 2T wine, 1d soy sauce, 1d sesame oil, 1d sugar or corn syrup, 1 cube or 4 cloves of crushed garlic, (5 items)

2. Put the pork in the marinade and leave from two hours or overnight.

COOKING

In a heavy bottomed pot or Korean earthenware ‘ttukbeki,’ place:

3. The marinade, half a cup of onions and mushroom, 6 cubes of tofu, 0.5t of dashida stock, 1t sesame powder. (6 items)

4. Then add 1d red pepper paste and approx 1t of red pepper powder. (2 items)

5. Finally, add 3 cups of water, a third of a cup of shepherd’s purse and half a cup of kimchi.  (3 items)

6. Bring to boil, allowing it to vigorously boil for five minutes and then simmer on a low heat for 30 mins. Top up with extra water to maintain original amount.

7. Remove from the heat, garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

 SERVING SUGGESTIONS        

Serve with an accompanying bowl of rice.

ONGOING NOTES:

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Basic Kimchi Recipe (adapted for those living in the UK)

Posted in My Recipes, Quintesentially Korean, recipes for Kimchi by 노강호 on February 13, 2011

the taste of a nation

I have a number of friends and family in the UK, most notably my sister, who have been asking me to give them a kimchi recipe despite there now being many great recipes available on the Internet. So, I have written up a recipe I use when in the UK where I can’t always get authentic ingredients and I need to make substitutions.

There are many different cabbage kimchi recipes encompassing different styles to regional variations. The fact kimchi is so varied makes it exciting and without doubt, everyone who makes kimchi does so slightly different from someone else. For Koreans, when mum makes kimchi, and I’ve only met a few men who can make it, their hands invest it with love.  This is the recipe I use for what is basically a straight forward kimchi comprising the basic ingredients.

Kimchi is very easy to make but it helps if you have some knowledge of how decent kimchi tastes so you are able to assess your endeavours and make adjustments to improve future attempts.

There are 9 basic ingredients:

Cabbage – Chinese leaf (called napa in the US). In the UK places like Tesco sell these but they are white, small and very stemmy. You will need 4 of these.

Mooli – once again this sometimes appear in supermarkets though they are small, skinny and bendy. Turnips, 3 0r 4 make a suitable alternative.

A whole bulb of garlic.

An inch or so of ginger. (I often omit this)

A bunch of chives or spring onions. (the type of onion Koreans use I have not seen in the UK)

Rice flour, though I have used plain flour. Not all recipes use this but I prefer paste slightly clingy)

Fish sauce – in the UK Thai Nam Pla is fine including ‘Squid’ brand.

Salt, like a whole box or packet. You will need Kosher salt or sea salt and not table salt.

Korean red pepper powder. You cannot substitute this but I have ordered it with easy in British Oriental supermarkets.

A good size plastic tub – like a Tupperware tub.

(Sugar – not all recipes use this)

Stage 1 cabbage preparation

Without any doubt the most neglected part of recipes on kimchi involve salting, and hence wilting the cabbages. All my early failures at kimchi making resulted from recipes that failed to explain this process. Getting this right is crucial but it is very simple.

1. Immerse cabbages in water. Then trim off discoloured bases, remove any bad leaves, and using a good knife begin to cut the cabbage in half from the base. Once about a third of the way into the cabbage, remove the knife and then simply tear the cabbages in half. If you have large cabbages you would in fact quarter them in this manner but if they are the small ones I’d simply half them.

Let the cabbages drain but don’t dry them.

Double check your using sea salt! Lay the cabbage half on its back, and then begin sprinkling salt on the lowest leaf, on the inside. You’ll need to raise the rest of the cabbage up to access it and at times, with a small cabbage, you can hold it in the palm of your hand and finger the leaves apart. Make sure you sprinkle salt into the base area where stems are thickest. You don’t need lots of salt, just a good pinch for each leaf. This process is finicky with small cabbages.

salting the cabbage

When all salted, put the cabbages in a bowl, throw a handful of salt over the top and then add a cup or two of water. Then simply leave them until wilted which may be between 2 hours to over night depending on the temperature. Turning them a few times during salting is useful.

leave for several hours or overnight

How do you know when the cabbages are ready to paste? First they will have reduced in volume considerably and the container will contain a lot more water. Most importantly, the cabbages should be limp and floppy j.  A good test is to wring one and it should wring just like a cloth, without tearing.

suitably wilted so that it is limp and like a wet cloth

Next, rinse them 3 times. To prevent the kimchi being too salty, you can immerse cabbages in water and feel where excess salt is as it will have a slimy feel. Simply remove this with your fingers. Make sure you wash between the leaves.

Finally, wring them to remove excess water which will otherwise dilute your paste. The cabbages are now ready to paste.

Stage 2 Preparing the other ingredients.

Grate the mooli (white turnips) and squeeze any fluid from them

grate the ginger

crush the garlic

chop the spring onions (chives)

Mix 2 tablespoons of rice flour (or plain flour) in a little cold water, until it is a runny paste, then add this to a pan containing 1 and a half cups of water. Heat this until it begin to boil, stirring it constantly and adding any additional water until it resembles porridge. As it begins to boil you can add a 1 tablespoon of sugar but this is optional. The ‘porridge’ provides some body to the paste and many Koreans do not use it. Personally, I quite like a thicker paste on kimchi though not too long after fermentation, the paste will have become diluted regardless.

Stage 3 making the paste

Put the rice flour porridge in a large bowl

Add half a cup of fish sauce

3 cups of red chili powder

Add garlic, ginger, onion and mooli

Mix them all together into  a paste being careful not to burn your fingers on the porridge mix.

Stage 4 pasting up the leaves

kimchi pasting

This process is almost the same as salting the leaves; lay each cabbage on its back and staring with the inside lowest leaf, paste on the mixture. Any leftover paste I simply spread over the top unless there is a lot when I might freeze it for later use. Segments should be placed in a Tupperware container with each segment being laid in a head-tail-head order. They pack better this way.

Some General Points

Where to store kimchi – basically, if  it’s summer in the fridge and if winter, somewhere cold but not freezing. Kimchi ferments and as it does so the taste is altered. Part of the fun in making kimchi is in controlling the fermentation so you keep your batch in the condition in which you best enjoy it.

Fermenting kimchi – You can eat kimchi immediately. Prior and during fermentation, kimchi has a very fresh taste where individual ingredients are distinct.  The kimchi will also be lively in colour. At this stage the kimchi can be salty but as fermentation and infusing continues, saltiness is lost. Some saltiness or even heat (spiciness) can be compensated with some additional sugar. If it has lost saltiness you can adjust this at this stage. Stems may still be slightly firm and thick stems may still have a little crunch left in them despite being wilted.  Be prepared for some bad smells during this period. Fermentation can last up to  a week depending on temperature and in comfortable room temperature (21 degrees) you can expect the lid of the Tupperware container to pop open about once every 24 hours. I’ve slept in the same room as fermenting kimchi and no longer find the aroma unpleasant but the released gasses will easily scent a room with what some will consider a very unpleasant smell.

Fermented kimchi – individual flavours are much less distinguishable, saltiness is reduced and the paste has probably thinned and increased considerably.  Don’t worry; this is delicious in stews and soups. I often make minor adjustment to saltiness and sweetness.

Aged Kimchi – aged kimchi draws your mouth with its sourness and if you appreciated this type of kimchi, there is a point, which differs for each ‘connoisseur,’ where the balance of saltiness, acidity, and sweetness combine to provide an exquisite taste.    I often add a little sugar or salt to this kimchi in order to balance the mixture exactly as I like it however; it never produces the same sensation as it does when the balance is naturally right.  Aged kimchi is slightly yellower in colour and the stems slightly translucent. What aged kimchi might lack in lustre is compensated by its mature taste.

Once you know how you like kimchi you can move your Tupperware pot in order to slow down or suspend fermentation. After the kimchi has stopped releasing gas, it will continue to mellow but at a much slower rate and during winter months or when it is kept in a cool place or the fridge, the taste will differ very little over several months.

Very old kimchi, over six months might have mould on the surface but don’t throw it away; wash the mould of the top segments and the kimchi is still edible but much better for use in stews.

 

kimchi  segments packed head to tail style

If you can obtain minari, as you can in Korea, a bunch of this, chopped can be added along with the spring onion, garlic and ginger.

Good luck and don’t be afraid to experiment as you gain experience!

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Kimchi-ism

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Food and Drink, Quintesentially Korean, seasons, vegetables by 노강호 on August 31, 2010

It smells bad, it can taste revolting, and is a major cause of conflict in university accommodation kitchens worldwide, where the sharp smell oozing from refrigerators upsets non-Koreans. It hangs on your breath with greater offence and persistence than any French gastronomical delight. Garlic can certainly be rude but enhanced and enlivened by numerous chemical processes and suspend in cabbage water and the pungent juices of fermented anchovy, the power to offend becomes a chemical and biological capability.  Nothing is polite about it,  it is totally ‘in your face’ in its onslaught of your taste buds, nasal passages and doesn’t look too pleasant either. It lacks any refinement or subtlety and amongst ‘offensive’ foods ranks as a weapon of mass destruction. You wouldn’t gorge or binge on it, indeed I wouldn’t even call it delicious and I could certainly live without it. If I were to be isolated on a dessert island for a year it wouldn’t be on my list of essential items. And yet paradoxically,  it is one of the most exciting taste sensations in the world. If there is one food so aptly capable of defining a nation, so synonymous with a people, it is cabbage kimchi(배추 김치).

There are many types of kimchi, and of those types many variations, and of those variations many permutations depending on a range of factors. Kimchi is one of numerous  Korean, fermented foods, others including makkalli, bean paste (된장), and soy sauce (간장). Only when kimchiis old enough for the initial processes of fermentation to have ceased, will the  flavour be consistent. At all other times, you can’t eat the same kimchi twice as the taste is always in a state of transition. Canned and packeted kimchi  are available but these should only ever be eaten as a last resort. Canned kimchi, often from China, is especially disgusting!

Welcome to Korea!

Traditional fermented beans (메주)

The most popular type of kimchi, and the one most armed in terms of offensive capability, is cabbage kimchi (배추 김치). Cabbage is well known for its powers to unleash unpleasant odours once its fibers have traversed the intestinal tract and are approaching a transmuted reincarnation via the human Cloaca Maxima. With cabbage kimchi however, your digestive organs can take a break as most of the chemical process which release those aromas, have already been activated and are in a chemical flurry approximate to final stages of processing via the large intestine.  Indeed, I would go as far as suggesting that function of that plastic Tupperware tub or kimchi pot in which kimchi is stored upon being made, is  basically a portable large intestine containing the numerous biological processes.  In that Pandora’s box of mischief: the most infamous kiss-killer of all, garlic, is present in its most potent form, crushed! Added to this is minced ginger, a Korean type of chive (실파) and mooli (무) which while not individually notorious, collectively possess powers of repetition which help strengthen the garlic and intensify its potency. Even at this stage, a burp of this concoction is lethal. Added to this, is the cabbage which after having been submersed in salted water, is already chemically active.

Kkanari - fish sauce - the concentrated odour of a million sweaty feet

The addition of fish sauce, (액젓) famous across the Asia, which is another fermented product made from anchovy or kkanari (까나리 – sand lance), completes the recipe. Of all the noxious odours added to kimchi, anchovy or sand lance sauce is the most vile. I’ve often entertained myself by inviting guests to sniff an open bottle as I’m casually cooking, with a little encouragement such as: ‘smell this, it’s lovely,’ or, ‘this has got to be my most favourite smell.’ Usually, a good whiff will propel them back a few meters with as much force as would a couple of hundred volts of electricity.  Once amassed and fizzling away, the flavours and smells blend in a process which can last a considerable amount of time, depending on temperature.

Comparing the kimchi pot (김치독) or Tupperware tub to a colon is not an exaggeration. I have slept in the same room as as my gestating kimchi and in the first week of fermentation, gasses produced within the Tupperware colon would cause the lid to pop-off about once every twenty-four hours.  If this occurred at night, the escaped aroma was initially enough to wake me. I have since become quiet comfortable sleeping in the same room as fermenting kimchi and find the smell highly evocative – ironically, not evocative of life in Korea, but life back in the UK where living with friends necessitated containing kimchi smells to my bedroom and not the shared kitchen.

Kimchi encapsulates Korea at many levels. Many countries have a national food with which they are identified: Italy – pizza, Germany – sausages or sauerkraut (which is also fermented cabbage), France – smelly, soft cheeses, frog legs, snails and cordon-bleu cooking, England – fish and chips,  roast beef and tea, Scotland – shortbread and haggis, but few have the ability to represent their nation with such precision as does kimchi. While kimchi comes in blaze of spicy colour, the foods of other nations, delicious as they are, remain purely monochrome.

Kimchi is a pot-pourii of Korea, a culinary collage of so many integral Korean elements – garlic, ginger, Korean chili powder (고추 가루), mooli (무) and fish sauce. These ingredients are the basis of almost all Korean cooking and representative of so much of the peninsula’s farming. You can hardly step in a direction without seeing pots of chili, patches of mooli and even on the mountains sides I’ve seen small plots painstakingly hoed out of the rocky soil, blossoming with such vegetables. Local variation on the cabbage kimchirecipe, as well as banchan side dishes in general, and most other Korean foods, adds a further interesting dimension.  While many national foods are now factory produced, often resulting in grossly inferior products (shortbread is a good example), kimchi, even when sold in markets, is homemade and its production evokes a great sense of pride. Korean women, and even some men,  are proud of their kimchi making prowess and whenever a gift of kimchi is given, it should be respected.

The making of kimchi is very much determined by the seasons with particular kimchibeing made at certain times of year, and for cabbage kimchi, this is late Autumn to early winter.  One of my most memorable images of Korea was seeing an enormous stack of Chinese cabbage (배추) outside Shinoo Supermarket, in Song-So, swathed in wintry mist and beside which a couple of store workers huddled around a bonfire burning on the pavement. I’ve never see such a sight since.  And when it is time to make kimchi, members of the family or friends, sometimes communities,   females more than males, are brought together.

Kimchi pots (김치독) at Keimyung University

There is always a random element in kimchi production, something beyond the control of the ‘cook’, and  hence tasting the final product is always an exciting moment. Like making English tea, you can follow the recipe and time the brewing meticulously, but the production is influenced by factors beyond the recipe, it might be the temperature, the humidity or the quality of ingredients of that particular season. Part of the fun  involved in kimchi making is the pursuit of perfection in the light of random influences. And if the kimchi itself isn’t synonymous with Korea, the pots (김치독) in which it is traditionally stored, can be seen sitting in vacant corners, on rooftop and apartment verandas across the entire peninsula. The kimchi pot is as Korean as soju, mountain temples and the cawing of the magpie and their production an ancient and noble art. But the making of kimchihas also kept abreast of modern developments. Kimchi has traveled into space  and the kimchi refrigerator is now a popular sight in many Korean homes.

My kimchi 'colon'

Learning how to make kimchi and any of the extensive range of side dishes collectively known as banchan (반찬) and of which cabbage kimchi is the King, is difficult. In my area of Daegu are three small shops which produce homemade banchan but they staff don’t like being photographed or watched whilst working. My grandmother, the daughter of a Scottish baker, was just as defensive about her shortbread which was superior to any factory produced shortbreads.

Waygukins and Koreans alike will never grasp the potential of their smelly delicacy until they are able to eat and smell it in isolation, basically, outside of Korea. Like, garlic, the best defense from the offensive smell is to ingest it yourself and once you do that you no longer notice it. You can walk in and out of Koreans homes and their restaurants and never really smell kimchi and yet the whole nation reeks of it  and everywhere everyone chuffes out its pungent odours. The only reason you don’t smell it is partly because you have acclimatised to it and because you eat it.  I remember arriving at Kimpo International Airport after a holiday, and as I walked into the arrivals hall I suddenly noticed the smell of kimchibut no sooner had I noticed it, than it disappeared. But if you visit Korean friends in the UK, or they visit your house, the odour of kimchiand of garlic is very strong and even unpleasant. I often notice how Korean Air and Emirates, provide Korean meals and kimchi on flights into Seoul and wonder if this is to acclimatise passengers to the guff of garlic and kimchi, prior to landing.

The taste of kimchi has a bizarre appeal and every Korean has a liking for a particular type; for some it’s fresh kimchi in which the fermentation hasn’t really started, for others it’s the tangy bite of old kimchi which draws your tongue like cold tea or strong red wine. And it can be used in a multitude of ways: barbecued, added to stews, used for soup, put into pancakes, fried with rice, minced into hamburger patties, rinsed in water  and added to cold soups chilled with ice cubes. When the fermentation process has stopped, and kimchi is left standing,  sometimes for months, it is often attacked by a glueppy white mold which lays over the uppermost leaves. At this stage the kimchi is at its  sourest and is ideal for cooking kimchi stew (김치찌개), the mold simply being washed off. I don’t think any westerner truly enjoys kimchi first time, but the more we  familiarise ourselves with its guises, idiosyncrasies and long and ancient history, the more entrenched our love affair with it becomes and the more we defend it to those barbarians who claim it stinks or tastes revolting!

Kimchi Stew

Twisting and weaving into Korea’s distant past, like one of the gnarled and knotted roots on the mountains, Kimchi, like its people, has endured and adapted.  Originally it wouldn’t have contained chili, this being an addition sometime after 1500, when the chili plant arrived in Korea.  Of all the foods capable of representing a nation, kimchi is the most personal, the most intimate  and the most capable of embodying Korea. It transcends simply being a product of the soil, its production etches out a seasonal calendar, it brings families and communities together,  it provides both national and regional identity with space for a little individual flare, and at tables across the country people bond as individual batches are critiqued, compared and celebrated. Even the frosty bite of winter and the hot balmy days of hanyorum (high summer) have a role to play in determining the flavour. In the past, Koreans believed that the foods that suited individuals best were the ones grown in the soil in which their ancestors had both toiled and been buried. It was the ‘fruits’ of the soil which powered families across the generations. When companies produce canned kimchi, or even packeted kimchi, they grossly miss the mark because not only is it supposed to  be alive and active, but it has to be Korean. Dead kimchi, kimchi castrated of its chemical process is not kimchi and indeed Koreans have taken foreign kimchi producers to international court over such issues. You can eat French brie or Camembert made in Spain and probably not notice a difference, but kimchi that is dead or not even from Korea, is simply not kimchi.

Useful Resources:

Kimchi in Wikipedia

Beyond the Blog – Maangchi: Queen of Korean Cooking

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The Sounds of Silence – Noisy Eating

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative by 노강호 on July 8, 2010

Slurp slurp, smack, smack...

I was watching the kids in my school eating around a table. The usual format presided with bouts of animated talking and then silence. Koreans talk much less than westerners during a meal as it suggests enjoyment but  the silent periods are never really silent because another means of expressing pleasure with food is to produce little noises of contentment as you eat. I was reminded of a friend back home who cringes whenever I eat toast in his presence. Eating toast silently is impossible, unless you’re into that Americanism of dipping it into your coffee the same way we British dunk their biscuits. Even with the moistest mouth, or lavishly lagged in rich butter,  toast crunches and it so happens such noises seriously disturb my friend, so much so that I can only ever eat it comfortably when he’s in another room.

Toast and butter

I love butter and in England melt a fat wadge of it into mashed potatoes, along with some milk and occasionally a raw egg, and always melt a knob or two on carrots, brussel sprouts or peas. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight in Korea as milk, bread and butter, basically diary products,  no longer form a staple part of my diet. At one time all three kick started my day along with oil, bacon and egg and there were probably as many calories in my English breakfast as there are in my current, daily Korean menu. My weekly shopping in England included a pack of butter, a pint of milk a day, a large loaf and about 1 litre  of oil a month. And then there was the meat! Nothing less than two big pork chops for dinner, or a large piece of chicken. I rarely fry any food so oil, only ever sesame, is reduced to about  a litre a year. My consumption of meat, without any exaggeration is at least 5 times lower than it was back home while my consumption of vegetables is significantly up. Currently, I will eat an entire large carrier bag of spinach a week and one enormous water melon; the water melon alone takes more calories to carry to my apartment than will be contained within it. Most surprisingly of all is that my consumption of rice, the staple food in Korea, is much lower than when I lived in England. A portion of rice in Korea is not much more than a handful, the amount contained within one of those small stainless steel dishes. Whenever I’m served rice back home the amount can be as much as 4 times greater than this and the quality is poor. For most of my life rice has simply been rice with a few major divergences: pudding rice and sushi rice being the most obvious. But when you live on good quality rice for a few years you really notice how tasteless ‘British’ rice is. Even the upmarket brands are bland but in fairness Koreans probably see a potato as a potato and for most Koreans the epitome of french fries are the shit served by Macdonald’s. Jersey new  potatoes with a sprig of mint and coated in creamy butter! Now there’s an orgasm!

Pass the tissues!

Shopping in a Korean supermarket, even the big ones like Home Plus (Tesco) or E-Marte is boring and totally functional. There are few microwave meals, no meat pies, few jars or cans of cook-in sauces padded out with soya and corn by-products, little but fish, fruit and spam existing in cans, an absence of almost anything but yogurt and ice cream in the form of deserts and frozen goodies are limited. Only in Korea can I go shopping for an item and leave the premises only having bought that item. In the UK, if you enter a supermarket the chances are you will leave with far more than you originally planned to buy. Of course, there are ample goodies in a Korean supermarket, probably of more appeal if you are Korean, but as a westerner with a penchant for pastry, dairy and meat products, the choices are limited.

Creamy

My greatest weakness is butter and by that I mean real butter and not that fake crap verging on margarine that for over a decade we were hoodwinked into believing was healthy until it transpired the trans-fatty acids they contained were just as bad for you as real creamy fat. Thankfully, Like Korean cheese,  Korean butter, if you can get hold of it, is generally shite. I was at a buffet restaurant a year ago and tucked in a corner was a toaster and butter; indeed two types of butter, herb and garlic. I almost wet myself I was so excited. There I was, surrounded by barbecued meats, smoked duck, smoked salmon, fried rice and even fried chicken, and the first thing I go for is some toast and butter. The butter was rather pale, not deep yellow like Irish butter tends to be but more like French butter but this is no bad sign as pale butter can be extremely creamy. You can imagine my disappointment when after attaching a fat slice of butter to my hot toast, I discover its ‘well being shit’, butter made with water or some fat-free substitute that turned the toast to exactly the same consistency you get dunking it in coffee and which is ideal for the elderly and those whose mouths are predominantly gum. It made no toast crunching sound and disgusted, I discarded it next to the toaster and headed straight for some fried chicken.

I'm looking for the cream!

Korean stainless steel rice bowl - fits in your palm!

In the last three years I have eaten one pack of butter! Imagine my glee when I discovered a pack of Danish Lurpak butter in the cooler cabinet at my local E-Marte! It was expensive, 6000 Won (£3) but I was in need of a little comfort and reminiscing and after putting it in my basket bought a  loaf of bread. I’d been given a toaster by a friend in Ch’eonan and 18 months later, it still lay packed in a box in a corner of my veranda. Lurpak is almost white in colour and is unsalted but is deliciously creamy. The pack was consumed within 36 hours, a frightfully naughty luxury and I haven’t bought one since and the toaster, boxed up, has gone back to the veranda.

Cabbage and rice cake spicy stew - korean kids favoutire

Sat at the table with my students, who have just made spicy cabbage stew (떡볶이), I suddenly become aware of their noisy eating, a symphony of sucking, smacking, slurping, sighing,  clicking,  and chewing. When I first arrived in Korea, I didn’t particularly enjoy eating with Koreans because they tend to make the eating noises you hear in documentaries where some micro camera is inserted deep into a nest of ants or termites  and the sounds subsequently amplified. When eating with gusto, Koreans parade  the entire gamut  of possible eating noises some of which are so juicy and over excited, they are almost sexual. Ten years ago I hated those noises in the same way my friend hated the unavoidable sound of munching toast. Sitting there watching their happy faces as they sigh loudly, because they’ve eaten too much, or fanning their mouths because they’ve  deliberately made the stew too spicy, I realise I now find their noises both consoling and cute. I spent years scolding my nephew  because he tends to eat in a manner somewhere between a salamander and an insect. Maybe it’s time to cut him some slack!

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.