Shin Hye Hwang ’19
The heat is unbearable, I thought to myself as I did my homework. The hot weather of Cambodia had not decided to be gracious this day. Sweat ran down my back and soaked my buttoned-up blue school uniform. Even from the fourth floor of my apartment, I could hear the voices of children playing outside. The sun slowly started to set, mixing red and orange throughout the sky. I was tired, sleepy, and hungry from having to go through another day of school. I was on the verge of drifting off to sleep when I caught a particular smell. There were no words to describe it, other than that it was delicious. This is the way with most Korean foods; it’s hard to place an adjective to the smell of a Korean dish. Still, the scent that I smelled–I would recognize it anywhere.
I immediately got up from my seat, left my room, and passed the shelves of books filling up the hallway. My sister came out from the room as well, smelling the same smell I did. Both of us had neglected to ask my mom what we were having for dinner that day. Usually, we would ask her that question the moment we got comfortable in the car, heading home from school. It was one of the few things my sister and I had in common: we were always wondering what’s for dinner.
As I headed towards the aroma, I heard the sound of a knife hitting the cutting board with a steady, constant rhythm. In the kitchen was my mom, chopping carrots into long, thin pieces.
“What are we having today?” I asked enthusiastically.
“Janchi Guksu,” she replied. My sister scrunched her face, said “Ugh,” and went back to the room. I cheered and stayed a bit longer, lurking in the kitchen, taking in the aromatic smell of the dish not yet completed.
Janchi Guksu, otherwise known as “Korean Warm Noodle Soup,” is a food that includes somyeon noodles (white, round noodles), anchovy broth, vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, squash), minced beef, and eggs. The noodles need to be boiled in water until cooked, then drained and left on the side. The minced beef and vegetables will then be cooked on a pan with a small drizzle of oil. The eggs need to be stirred together first so that the whites and the yolks mix, and then cooked in the pan. After that, the egg and the vegetables need to be chopped into thin pieces about 0.25cm wide and 5cm long (1/10 of an inch by 2 inches). Next, add the noodles to the warm anchovy broth, which should be poured in separate bowls for each person. Each of them could add as much of the vegetables and eggs as they liked. The cook can also make a sauce called Yangnyeomjang, which consists of soy sauce, chilli pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, chopped scallions, and garlic. The sauce should be set aside so that those who want to put it in their broth can add as much or as little as they wish.
In Korean history, this food was usually eaten during special events such as weddings and birthday parties. In a way it can be seen as a Korean casserole. In those days, when people wore Hanbok (a traditional, beautiful two-piece clothing which was made of silk with elegant patterns as embroidery), flour was very rare. The milling technology used to make noodles was from the Western nations, and without the technology it was hard to make long noodles. Koreans, who were used to eating hard wheats like millet, thought that eating soft noodles was good for the body. They even went so far as to believe that the food Janchi Guksu would let them live a longer life.
Now the food has become common in restaurants, yet not too common in households. But here I was, in my blue uniform and khaki pants, in my house, in a foreign country, with nothing special to celebrate. My mom had purchased the long, white noodles, dried anchovies, eggs, and the minced meat from a nearby Korean mart that was a short ten minutes away from the house. The fresh vegetables were purchased at a Cambodian market about twenty minutes away by car. Soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and sugar were always available in the house since they were the basic ingredients for any good Korean dish and must-have ingredients for any Korean household. My parents will often offer us a famous side dish of spicy and sweet cabbage, known as kimchi, but I always politely decline. My parents don’t understand why. Most Koreans eat it with just about anything. Some might even say they can’t live without it.
Then again, I am not like most Koreans. I was born in Korea, yet have lived in Cambodia for fourteen years. Not only have I been in a different country, but I have been going to an international school since kindergarten, one that teaches in English. So I have a mix of Korean, Cambodian, and American culture in me. I am definitely not your typical Korean.
I asked my mom if I could help her with anything. Even though we are in the modern era and ingredients are easier to get, the time it takes to make the food hasn’t changed. There were still more vegetables to be chopped and fried. Yet, just like every other time I’ve asked, she shook her head and told me to go back and do my homework. I groaned inwardly and dragged myself back to my room, bringing my grumbling stomach along with me.
Dinner time soon came, though, and my family sat around the table. My mom had already poured the anchovy broth into each of our bowls. The chopped vegetables, meat, and eggs were all on a plate in neat, sorted piles. The cooked noodles were also in neat, round piles; they looked like spaghetti noodles twirled into a pile. My family prayed together, then started to dig into the food.
My sister did what I expected her to. She put in only the eggs and minced meat. My mom told her to put in some vegetables, but she didn’t listen. She was in her sophomore year of high school, yet was still picky about her food. My dad put everything in: vegetables, minced meat, eggs, the sauce, even the kimchi. I couldn’t wait to try the food as everyone else measured out their chosen toppings. I wanted to feel the savory taste of broth and noodles spread throughout my tongue as I chewed and swallowed. Here I was, part of a Korean household living in Cambodia, enjoying a special holiday meal on a school day.
Recipe for Janchi Guksu
- add green onions, 3 pieces of kelp, and 15-20 anchovies into the water and boil; once the broth starts boiling, take out the pieces of kelp and add in the green onions
- boil then let it cool
- add some soy sauce to the water to the point where it’s not yet salty
- dice the chives and add diced garlic with chili powder, sesame seeds, and sesame oil to the soy sauce and water
- cut carrots, onions, and squash into long, thin pieces; then fry in small amount of oil
- mix the egg yolk and egg white together, then fry in the pan–once finished, cut the fried egg into long, thin pieces
- add some soy sauce, a bit of garlic, sugar, and pepper–pour drizzle of oil into the frying pan, then cook the minced beef
- cut the cucumbers into long, thin strips–do not fry; leave it raw
- cut kimchi into small bits (optional)
- boil the water
- put noodles into boiling water–one serving is about the size of a quarter
- once the water starts to boil, add some water to lessen the temperature–repeat about three times (this process makes the noodles more chewy)
- when you think the noodles are cooked through, take out the noodles and place them in cold water–use both hands to rub the noodles against each other–repeat process twice–wash once more in cold water
- place cooked noodles on wicker tray to get rid of water
- put noodles in the bowl first then add garnish (carrots, onions, squash, eggs, cucumber, beef, and kimchi)–add broth
* add garnish according to your appetite