Local Flavor: 김치찌개 kimchi jjigae

15 Oct

When thinking of Korean food, the most likely item that pops into ones head is… drumroll please… wait for it… almost there… KIMCHI!  And for good reason.  Kimchi, in all of its spicy, pickled, and fermented glory, just so happens to be the national dish of Korea.

Kimchi Variations

Kimchi comes in hundreds of varieties and is made using a main vegetable ingredient and a variety of spices.  Spices used to make kimchi vary by region of the country, and the vegetables used vary slightly by season.  However, the variety of kimchi that most people in the US are familiar with, and the variety that we’ve seen and eaten most in our time here in Seoul, is made with napa cabbage, chili paste, garlic, and a an assortment of other unidentifiable spices.

One variety or another is served with almost every meal, and not always as just a side dish.  You often see kimchi served as the main course in the form of kimchi pancakes, kimchi pork cutlets, kimchi fried rice, etc.  In an early effort to adhere to the culinary cultural norms of Korea, we felt it necessary that our first meal upon arrival in Seoul have an obvious kimchi element.  After searching long and hard for nearly 35 seconds, we found this dish at a restaurant down the street from our new apartment.

김치찌개 Kimchi Jjigae

Jjigae is the Korean word that describes a soup or a stew-like dish, which is usually eaten communally amongst friends and family.  Kimchi, as mentioned above, is a mix of fermented vegetables pickled in spices.  Put the two together and you get a bubbling mix of  tangy cabbage, tofu, pork, scallions, and onions all simmering in a orangish-redish, beyond-spicy broth.  In other words, deliciousness!

On that first night in Seoul, after a long flight and an unsuccessful attempt to unpack, we were ready for our first taste of authentic Korea together.  One of our co-teachers, Mr. Jae, who lives in our same building, took us out to a restaurant just down the street.  We let him know that we wanted something typically Korean and affirmed that we weren’t afraid of spice (though Staci has learned that it may not always be in our stomaches’ best interest to let me pick the the level of Scoville heat units our meals have).  We ordered the Kimchi Jjigae to share and some soju to celebrate and help dull the spice.  In just a few short minutes, the waitress came to our table with a bowl of kimchi jjigae the size of a witches cauldron, three bowls, a half-dozen side dishes (banchan), rice, and the ever-so-important, pain-dulling soju. We dug right in and loved every bite!

The cause of The Morning Calm

While the soup is certainly spicy, it strikes the right balance of pain and enjoyment.  Apparently, you are supposed to use more “mature” or “ripened” kimchi to get the full flavor out of the dish.  In other words, when your fermented vegetables are becoming just a bit too fermented, make some soup.  Not only does this help make the flavor stronger, it also apparently contains a higher level of “good” bacteria to help your digestive system.  Now Korea is also known as The Land of the Morning Calm, but Staci and I can affirm that the person responsible for giving Korea that nickname most certainly did not have kimchi jjigae for dinner the evening before! The mixture of spice from the chili paste and “good” bacteria do little to “calm” your morning, but they do make for a delicious soup… that you have to enjoy in the moment.

If, like me, you are a glutton for spicy punishment, and you want to try making kimchi jjigae on your own at home, try the recipe below.  Now we can’t personally vouch for this recipe (honestly there isn’t much need to make it at home here when you can get two gallons down the block for $12), but we’d love to hear how things work out in your kitchen.  I will advise, however, that you not have this meal before a night out on the town or prior to boarding your flight to come visit us! 🙂

Until next time, we wish you happy cooking and a fermented farewell!

Diving into Korean spice right off the plane

Kimchi Jjigae

1/3 lbs pork belly sliced very thin (omit for vegetarians)
1/2 small onion sliced
1 1/2 C loosely packed kimchi
4 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 C kimchi juice
2 C water
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1 Tbs cooking wine (such as mirin or shaoxing)
2 tsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
2 tsp miso or dengjang
2 tsp Korean soup soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
2 Tbs gochugaru (Korean dried chili flakes) optional
8 oz silken tofu sliced into cubes
2 green onions thinly sliced
vegetable oil
cooked rice

Heat a small pot (cast iron works best) until hot, then add the pork belly, onion, and vegetable oil. After a few minutes, add the kimchi and garlic. Saute until the mixture is very fragrant, then add the kimchi juice, water, ginger, cooking wine, gochujang, miso, and soy sauce, stirring everything together to combine.

Bring to a boil and taste for spiciness. Add as much gochugaru to taste until it’s pleasantly tingly (I usually add about 2 Tbs, but this may be way too much for some people). Add the tofu, turn down the heat to a simmer, and let it cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the pork and kimchi are tender.

When you’re ready to serve, add the green onions. Serve with rice!

Recipe found from NoRecipes.com

11 Responses to “Local Flavor: 김치찌개 kimchi jjigae”

  1. derikandamandagrove October 16, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    Wow brave! On your first night you tried and loved Kimchi?! I’ve been here 8 months and still am not sure of the stuff. I love this post, you write brilliantly. Welcome to Korea!

    • thanrahan October 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Thanks for reading and for the welcome to Korea… glad you like it!! Cheers and happy traveling/blogging.

  2. Barbara Jones October 16, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    You lost me on “fermented”, but I’ll admit that this looks better than most of the pictures of food you’ve tried! You should have cast iron tummies by the time you return!

    • thanrahan October 16, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

      Barbara, don’t be scared… it sounds worse than it really is. We’ll have to make you some spicy goodness when we get back! 🙂

  3. Maureen Hanrahan October 16, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    We are not yet convinced to make the recipe but sure enjoyed the story and the effort you
    put into the details. Maybe we need to come to try it out ;-). Love, Mom and Peter

    • thanrahan October 16, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      Definitely a better idea for you to try it when you’re out here…. There will be lots to try! 🙂 Love you guys, and thanks for reading!

  4. Linz October 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    kimchi juice…I wonder what aisle they have that on at central market 😛

    • thanrahan October 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

      No need to go to Central Market, just bury a jar of cabbage in your apartment complex lawn like everybody else! Duh. Don’t forget the spices!!

      • Linz October 26, 2012 at 1:52 am #

        Ah…I’ll have to hoist Belle out of the window when I get home to have her locate a prime spot to bury the jar of cabbage for such a treat. 😛

        P.S. I figured it was 50/50 shot that it was a typo on morning “clam”, but I was entertained by it either way.

  5. Fred October 22, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Hi Tys and Angie.
    Loving the blog…keep it up. It’s a great window into your new world. Cool post. Assuming the the Morning “clam”….and the Gluten (vs. “glutton”) were intentional type-o’s or autocorrects. If they weren’t a lovfe your sense of humor 🙂

    • thanrahan October 22, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Thanks, Fred, for catching those… certainly it was autocorrect and not a hidden joke or poke at Peter’s “gluten” intolerance. 🙂 Hope life is good. Give our best to Diane and Cam-man!

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