Ice rinks (and rice cakes) aren’t like they used to be

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Ice rinks (and rice cakes) aren’t like they used to be

I realized during a recent conversation with a friend how much I miss the 1980s. I seem to remember every detail of those years, even though I was 14 by the time they were over; I spent most of my teens, in the ’90s, longing for the ’80s. This is why I agree that home is not necessarily where you were born, but the place you feel connected to.
Of course, the politics of that decade are another matter, but I was too young to figure out what was going on then anyway. I do have fond memories of walking the tear-gas-filled streets of Myeongdong, holding my mother’s hand, on our way to a dentist’s office.
One of the things I miss most about those years was my trips to an outdoor skating rink with my brother and a bunch of his friends. For years, I had to beg him to let me tag along with them.
For some reason, there were an awful lot of skating rinks in my neighborhood at that time. I have not seen a single one since then. My favorite was “Sing Sing Skating Rink” right by Sinbanpo Church, about a 15-minute walk from my home.
My memories of that ice rink are so vivid that I can still sit down and name everything about the surroundings: the tiny holes in the walls of a vinyl shelter that let the wind into the platform; the toilet made from rough planks of wood; how cold my feet were, even with several layers of socks on. Every Sunday, next to the church, there was a homeless mother with an infant on her back, begging for spare change from church worshippers, repeating in the same tone of voice, “I am hungry, I am hungry.” My brother and I sometimes stood there and imitated her voice.
The skating rinks were temporary, built on vacant lots. Often they were gone by the end of the winter, then rebuilt again the following season. During the summer, “Sing Sing Skating Rink” was a dusty parking lot.
This, of course, is an unimaginable picture now, considering that Banpo, where I spent most of my childhood, is now one of the most exclusive residential areas in southern Seoul. But again, this was the ’80s, well before modern Gangnam.
Next to the rink, there was a small tent where a vendor sold ddeokbokgi, the rice cakes in spicy sauce, for a few cents. It was our joy to eat them on our way back from skating.
My habit of eating ddeokbokgi continued through middle school, despite some serious pressure from my mother not to eat street junk food. One day, at a bus stop where I would transfer on my way home from school, I spent all my bus money on ddeokbokgi, which I ate with my friends in the street. It was a brave choice for a child that age. I walked to my aunt’s house nearby, and borrowed bus money from her.
These incidents continued for months, thanks to my aunt, who didn’t tell my mother. Indeed, she fed me more ddeokbokgi before sending me home.
Though I am not a fan of the thicker rice cakes that are served in ddeokbokgi now, the nostalgia of it sometimes make me stop in the middle of Jongno and ask for a small plate.

How to Cook


Ingredients (for 4 servings): 200 grams of rice cakes, 1/4 onion (chopped), 30 grams of carrots (chopped), 2 shiitake mushrooms, 1 red and 1 green chili pepper (chopped), sesame oil. Sauce: 1 red chili pepper (chopped), chili paste, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 3 teaspoons of chicken broth, a pinch of sesame seeds, a pinch of pepper.
1. Soak the mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes.
2. Marinate the rice cakes in sesame oil for 20 minutes or so.
3. Trim the stems from the mushrooms and cut into bite-sized pieces.
4. Mix the sauce in a bowl.
5. In a pan heated with olive oil, stir-fry the carrots, onion, mushrooms and chili peppers. Stir.
6. Add the rice cakes. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until they get soft.
From, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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