Good times with pork resolve an old childhood fear

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Good times with pork resolve an old childhood fear

It’s strange how stories you heard as a child can stick with you forever. Horrifying stories turn into lifelong fears, pleasant ones into naive optimism.
For me, it was a story I’d heard as a child from a distant relative ― I’ll call him “Vinny” ―that planted a tremendous fear in my mind about eating pork.
Uncle Vinny was a voracious drinker. When he drank, his favorite snack was spicy stir-fried pork, or jeyuk boggeum. One evening, he went out drinking with his friends and, as was not unusual, devoured a plate of pork, got beastly drunk and crashed into bed.
When he woke up in the middle of the night and felt a subtle pain in the back of his head, Uncle Vinny thought it was a simple hangover. He knew it wasn’t when the pain got worse and worse, almost to the point that he lost consciousness.
He was taken to a hospital. In the emergency room, the doctors discovered that there was a parasite in his brain, a type of tapeworm that typically lives in the flesh of pigs. Vinny underwent eight hours of surgery to get rid of a parasite that was smaller than his fingertip.
What disturbs me about Uncle Vinny’s story is that the parasite managed to swim its way from his stomach to the brain. How did it know which way to go? Maybe tapeworms have their own instincts, like salmon. But as a child, the story was an awakening experience, motivating me to take anthelminthic pills every season, the ones that supposedly kill the parasites in your digestive system.
Of course, it also kept me from eating pork until many years later, in the early 1990s, when it was a hip thing among young Koreans to eat samgyeopsal ― barbecued bacon ― with soju in a pojangmacha-style eatery.
But my real reconciliation with pork came much later, when I’d started writing for a newspaper. In downtown Seoul there was a great mom-and-pop Korean restaurant called Namwonjip, run by a lady and her daughter in-law. It was a tiny place, with only three or four tables; during lunch hour, it was so crowded that the serving lady would shout at you if you were still sitting there after you’d put down your spoon.
It was a great place for jeyuk boggeum. The weird thing was, you couldn’t order it. Namwonjip didn’t have a menu. You simply ordered “lunch,” and they served you whatever they had in the stove. Usually it was roasted fish, hot kimchi stew and a set of side dishes. But if you were lucky, you would get jeyuk boggeum. That, along with the crisped rice in broth (sungnyung) that they served at the end of the meal, was the best combination of Korean food I’ve ever had.
I wonder if that place still exists. If anyone reading this column has been to Namwonjip, near Gwanghwamun, please send me an e-mail. There will be rewards.
And as far as my memories about Uncle Vinny are concerned, well, good food heals everything in the end.

How to Cook

Jeyuk boggeum

Ingredients: 300 grams of pork, 1 onion, 1 green chilli pepper, 2 cloves of garlic, a 6-centimeter length of green onion. For sauce: 3 teaspoons of chili paste, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 crushed garlic clove, 2 teaspoons of diced green onions, 1/3 teaspoon of diced ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds, pepper, sesame oil. Serves 2 or 3.
1. Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl.
2. Chop the onion, garlic, green onion and pepper.
3. Cut the pork into bite-size pieces. Pour the sauce over the meat. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.
4. Heat the sesame oil in a pan and stir the chopped garlic until it’s golden. Add pork and the other vegetables, and stir for 10 minutes or so.
5. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.
From, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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