A noodle-inspired political epiphanyIn South Korea, food is one of the few North Korean cultural assets that are available to the public free of censorship. I haven’t seen any conservative politicians stage hunger protests in front of North Korean-style dumpling restaurants because they conflict with our values.
My uncle, a retired high school math teacher who came down from the North during the war, thinks Korea’s best years were under President Park Chung Hee. While he acknowledges that Mr. Park’s regime spread propaganda against the North, including white lies in children’s textbooks, he still thinks Kim Il Sung was Korea’s greatest enemy, blaming him for the spread of Marxism and the tragedy of this divided nation. But tears appear in his eyes whenever he talks about the food in his hometown of Sinpo, South Hamgyeong Province.
This ambivalent attitude toward North Korea runs in my family. My father, despite his rightward-leaning politics, thought that a Korean shouldn’t start boasting about his culinary expertise until he’d sampled the delicacies of the North.
Listening to such talk from family members taught me two political lessons. One was that conservatives in Korea can be inconsistent. The other was that you can’t brainwash a person with potato noodles.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Granted, when you consider the complex social, political and intellectual factors that shape one’s cultural viewpoint, taste is a momentary experience by comparison. But in other ways, it is possible to brainwash a person with a noodle. It happened to me.
As a child, it was an revelatory experience when my father first took me to a famous North Korean-styled spicy naengmyeon restaurant in downtown Seoul, run by a lady whose family came from Hamheung during the war.
The sweet, spicy sauce over chewy strips of potato noodle, with meat sliced thicker than you get in South-style naengmyeon restaurants, tasted so good that I began to question everything I’d been taught in school about the North. If it produced noodles like this, I thought, the country couldn’t be so evil after all.
In the noodle bowl, I buried my guilt and regret for having once written a brutal anti-communist essay in a school contest. Ever since my first taste of uncensored noodles in that downtown restaurant, my culinary values haven’t been the same, or my political values either, for that matter.
How to Cook
Ingredients: 400g wet naengmyeon, 150g beef shank, 4 cups of water, 1 cucumber, 1 radish, 1/4 pear, 2 boiled eggs, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons chili powder. Sauce: 3 teaspoons chili paste, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon pear extract, 2 teaspoons ground onion, 3 teaspoons brown sugar, 3 teaspoons vinegar, 2 teaspoons diced green onion, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 2 teaspoon cider (lemon-lime soda), 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 4 teaspoons beef broth, 2 teaspoons salt. Serves 4.
1. Slice the cucumber and radish in half, then into thin slices. Spread salt over the slices and let them sit for 2 to 3 hours. Wash them in fresh water.
2. Prepare the sauce on the side.
3. Place the beef in a pot of water over low heat for an hour. Cut it into bite-size pieces. Save a little of the broth to pour over the sauce later.
4. Boil the noodles; when they’re done, rinse them in cold water in a strainer.
5. Put the noodles in a bowl, and top with sauce, broth, pickled radish and cucumber. Top each serving with half a boiled egg. Provided by miz.naver.com, Delicook
by Park Soo-mee
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