Progress gives us cell phones, takes away karae riceI resent technology. It’s taken away too many good things in return for things that we can get by without.
Look at what cell phones have done to relationships. Since cell phones became ubiquitous, people fall out more easily; there are more disputes than ever, because we can find out more of the truth than we need to know. A century from now, words like “longing” or “mystery” might be anachronisms, appearing only in lousy poems.
Scientists might argue that technology has made impossible things possible. But it’s also made many possible things useless. For some, that’s a greater loss.
One of those now-vanished things, for me, was the simple pleasure of eating “karae rice” on a train. I am talking about the old trains here, not the new ones that run faster than cheetahs. Eating karae while looking out the window was one of the joys of taking the train.
Mind you, there is a subtle difference between “curry rice” and “karae rice.” If it’s pronounced “curry,” it usually means the authentic type served in traditional East Indian restaurants. But “karae” refers to the Japanese style ― a bed of sticky rice topped with delicious, golden sauce, with a texture like thick gravy. It’s often served with large chunks of sauteed beef, mushrooms, carrots and potatoes. Ironically, while the British adopted curry for its exotic Eastern flavor, karae in Korea is typically served in restaurants that categorize themselves as gyeongyang-sik, or Western cuisine.
I was very disappointed to find out that Korea’s new bullet train didn’t have a snack car. The reason given was that the longest trip on the KTX train is three and a half hours. Though that’s certainly long enough to finish a meal, they’ve replaced the snack car with vending machines and carts for the sake of convenience.
What’s more upsetting is that on all trains ― including the old ones ― they’ve replaced the classic menu items like karae rice and hamburger steak with instant cup noodles. The cooks have been replaced with staff who pour hot water into your bowl. I almost lost my words when a young server in a snack car shyly offered me a small plastic bag of kimchi, of the kind sold in convenience stores. What’s the point of taking the train if you are going to get kimchi in a plastic package?
Back in the ’80s, dining in the snack car somehow suggested luxury living. I guess it satisfied Koreans’ notions of what was modern. Now many Koreans think snack cars are filthy and a waste of money. Whenever new things come around, old things get trashed. When authentic Indian restaurants arrived in Korea, karae rice became an unfashionable meal. It’s like that with everything.
How to Cook
One good thing about karae rice is that you’ll probably find most of the ingredients in your refrigerator. For one serving, you’ll need about 250 grams total of potato, onion, carrot and pork, along with three tablespoons of curry powder. You’ll also need two and a half cups of meat gravy or water, and a bit of vegetable oil and sugar.
1. Cut the ingredients into cubes of about 1 centimeter.
2. Saute the cubed ingredients with vegetable oil, then add the curry powder.
3. Add the water or meat gravy and bring to a boil.
4. Add a bit of sugar. Serve over steamed rice.
by Park Soo-mee