Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cool things Korean (part 3)

The other day Miyoung and I were on our way home from work and looking for a place to eat. She suggested the food court in the basement of the GS Square department store, and who am I to say no? Actually I know that mall and department store food courts in Korea are some of the best places to eat around. Rather than being made uniform by the presence of chains like the U.S., the Korean food court consists of nameless kitchens, each with its own specialty. In fact, some of my favorite places to get certain foods are in food courts. We had never been to this food court before, so we ordered an old standby, jajangmyun (or jjajangmyun, 자장면). Jajangmyun is basically noodles (myun) and jajang sauce, which is a heady black mixture of fermented black bean paste, onions, a little potato and carrot and whatever else granny's recipe calls for. Very savory, very delicious, jajangmyun is beloved by children, who can often be seen with black smears at the corner of their mouth. I neglected to take a picture of the food in my zeal to eat it, so here's a stock photo.
Interesting side note about the word 'myun'. This is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese word for noodles (originally meaning 'flour') that spread throughout Asia and even into America. Perhaps you've had chow mein? Same word: in Mandarin chao mian means fried noodles. How about ramen? Men is the Japanese pronunciation of this word. They all share the same Chinese character.
What we didn't realize when we ordered was that this kitchen was serving suta jajangmyun. Suta literally means 'hand beaten'. We had a seat next to the kitchen, and we saw the cook readying a big wad of dough and knew what was coming, but the lady next to us didn't see. The cook pulled the dough apart and loudly thwacked it down on the floured counter. The woman must have jumped a foot.
The whole point of all the thwacking is to pull the wad of dough to double its length, so you can fold it over and thwack it again. Do this ten or fifteen times and instead of holding a wad of dough, you've got two or three servings of noodles in your hand. Watching an expert tease these noodles out to their full length is amazing.

Incidentally, this was served with the best jajang sauce I've ever had. So if you ever happen to be in the GS Square Department Store in Bucheon, go down into the basement and order a bowl of jajangmyun.

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