Saturday, October 31, 2009


Nevermind "two shoes," I've got a massive backlog of posts. I was having a look around my site and started feeling guilty that I only have four measly posts for October, and here we are on the last day of the month. Remember the good old days when I'd churn out double digits in a month? Sheesh. So I'm going to try to squeeze out a few entries today, and figured I'd start off with some nice lighthearted ones. Things are about to get especially sucky up in here at I Got Two Shoes, but for now let's all take a deep breath and relax.

Many moons ago, sometime in the spring (see how bunged up I am?) I walked in on my boss having some dinner in an empty classroom. He had a big container of kimchi, an open package of "gim" (roasted and salted delicious sheets of seaweed) and a square Tupperware dish of rice. "Oh! Dinner time!" I said. "How is it?"
"Bad," he replied. "I don't have soup."

For pretty much every meal Koreans consume, the holy triumvirate of rice, kimchi, and soup must be present for the meal to be considered, well, a meal. Because I am a Fixer of Problems, I started to think about how this lack of soup issue could be resolved.

My boss didn't normally eat dinner at work, unless you count a cup of instant ramen to be dinner. I knew that three nights a week my boss would leave after my last class which ended at ten o'clock and head down toward the university where he would wait to pick up his daughter, a second year high school student, who finished her after-school-extra-school classes at midnight. They'd get home around twelve thirty and she'd probably study some more because being a high school student in Korea sucks ass, and eventually they'd go to bed knowing that their six-thirty alarms would be ringing all too soon. Anyways, this tough schedule combined with the stress my boss was experiencing at work and home (his wife had left him) meant that he wasn't eating regularly, and had lost about forty pounds in just a few months. I was feeling bad for him.

A couple days later while shopping, I bought him a present - a thermos! I figured he could make soup at home and bring it to work so he could enjoy a somewhat satisfying meal. I brought the thermos home and made some soup to fill it with and brought it to school all proud at having Fixed the Problem. He was pleased, and told me my soup was delicious. So I got to thinking again, about how I really enjoy cooking - but because I'm cooking for one (me) most of the time I can't be bothered and opt instead for a dinner of toast, or popcorn, or bits of dust and lint I find under my bed. So I took the thermos back from him and told him I'd make more soup for the next day. The next day turned into another day and so on, and soon I had become the permanent Maker of the Soup. But still, my boss's dinner looked unsatisfying because it lacked banchan.

Banchan is the term for all the side dishes that accompany a Korean meal. I love banchan, and my favourite restaurants are the ones that serve up a nice variety. If you're someone who's in Korea, or have ever eaten at a Korean restaurant, don't you just love it when your sitting on the floor in front of a large table and the whole thing is covered with dishes? I'm reminded of a post I did a loooong time ago about a Korean breakfast I'd enjoyed.

The making of the soup was going well, and I would fill up the thermos with whatever I'd prepared that morning or the night before, and then I'd have a nice bowl of it myself for breakfast. I decided that I wanted banchan with my breakfast as well, so I went out and bought a nice plastic compartmentalized container meant for banchan, and then I started making that as well. It was good!

I took a couple of pictures a long time ago, thinking that I'd post about banchan eventually.


Here, we have stir-fried garlic stems (maneuljjong-bokkeum) pickled cucumber (oijangajji muchim) and some fish cake/mushroom stir fry thing.

And here's another example:


That's seasoned green bean sprouts (sukju namul muchim) fried slices of tofu, and acorn jelly (dotori mook) pictured.

Some days I did really well with the banchan, and other times I'd really miss the mark, but my boss was pretty gracious and would eat most everything anyhow. He was pretty honest, though - in telling me when something I'd made kind of sucked. I didn't mind the constructive criticism, though, and was really enjoying browsing the Internet to put together a mini-menu and learning more about Korean food and how to cook various recipes. Almost every soup I made was delicious and I'm now a bona-fide ddenjjang jjigae expert. Sadly, my mi-ok gook (seaweed soup) which is one of the easiest soups to put together, never tastes right. Perhaps me not liking it has something to do with not being able to cook it properly. One other thing that bugged me was my boss's reluctance to enjoy non-Korean soups with his meal. I once made a roasted red pepper cream soup that was outstanding, but my boss wouldn't admit it. Likewise, my creamed zucchini soup, and roasted pumpkin and carrot soups were snubbed, but my manager (The Princess) would always happily eat 3/4 of the thermos. Despite what my boss, an old-school Korean dude would tell you, cream soups - especially those made from fresh vegetables with a little white wine, some herbs, and homemade chicken or vegetable broth then blended into a lovely rich thick bowl of goodness, pair wonderfully with rice and kimchi.

Anyhow, why not have a look around the web and try out recipes for yourself. You could start with two sites I visited frequently: Maangchi or My Korean Kitchen. Or pop on over to Zen Kimchi, a site that always makes me hungry - and he's got some great Korean food links as well. There's another site that I can't find right now. It's bookmarked on the PC at school, and I'll update on Monday. I made just about every recipe there and it's a good 'un. Happy cooking!

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