One of the main people who has had an influence on my tastebuds was JL, the mom of the family I worked and lived with in Bellevue, WA. She is an AMAZING cook and I was very glad to learn from her. The biggest upside? The family is Korean which means that my food palatte just exploded with fun new foods. Over the months that I was with them, I learned not only how to order in a restaurant but also how to decipher the labels at the Asian markets, both of which have been a HUGE help for me now that I am so far away from JL and her family. Every once in a while, my head spins as I remember some of the amazing meals that I shared with the L Family:
Kimbap (Korean-style rice roll, kinda like California rolls) from the Grocery store. The kids and I would pick up one after shopping and eat it on the way home in the car. Perfect for little hands and simply popping into your mouth on the way.
Yakgwa…a deep-fried, honey soaked cake that I fell in mad, mad love with that was best when fresh, all soft and sticky but was still yummy and amazing when slightly dried out. I searched every month for this sweet treat when I was in Anchorage and never was able to fidn it at my local Korean Grocery store but I FOUND IT this last time…and bought 2 packages and promptly threatened M with pain of death if he didn’t save and savor each and every bite or inhaled them. Mine. All Mine. Unless I share with you. Seriously, I nearly cried when I remembered how happy TL (the eldest child) and I would get over finding fresh yakgwa at the store…I miss her so much and I’ll think about her and how she is so darn grown up now
Kalbi was always a favorite, and who could blame me? Very thinly sliced beef short ribs marinated in soy sauce, garlic and sugar and hen quickly grilled? Heaven. On. Earth.
Jjigae (soup) in all its various forms…Kimchi jjigae, Sundubu jjigae (soft tofu) all served still bubbling and spicy…yum! There was a restaurant that we would go that had the best Haemul sundubu jjigae (seafood tofu soup, mostly made with fish eggs) that I learned to love after a few tries.
Japchae made in J style was always something that I had a hard time turning away from…
Pajeon, a pancake-like food with lots of veggies in the batter.
Naengmyeon, a cold soup with buckwheat noodles, sliced cucumbers, carrots, hard boiled eggs…I searched for ages before I found the package that I recognised at my Korean Market and I am so glad to have it again in my pantry.
All the various Panch’an…oh Lordy…a little of this, a little of that…sweet, spicy, savory, soft, crunchy…little dishes of everything possible to complete the meal and nearly everything made with a dollop of gochujang to give it that peppery kick with a sweet undertone. And Kimchi. Always Kimchi and always different varieties of it. And Kim, that lovely, crunchy seaweed seasoned with sesame oil and salt that is so addictive.
And then there are the dishes that don’t have official names…there is this world shattering chicken dish that JL would make with just chicken, potato, ginger, soy and something else…bring it all to a simmer on the stove and let it go…sweet and sticky and heavenly…I need to get the recipe from her! The killer Black Cod that was so simply broiled…buttery and amazing.
I think the only Korean dish that I never really loved was Bibimbap. A dish with nearly everything in it, raw egg cracked on top and then all mixed together to eat. I don’t know why I never took to it…maybe I like eating everything separately too much 🙂
JL and the entire L family have been such a sustaining influence on me and my life…not just food-wise but they are always in my thoughts…and I’ll think of them even more when I make and eat duk gook (not quite the recipe I will use) for dinner tonight 🙂