A lusty winter soup in a city with a sacred tradition

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A lusty winter soup in a city with a sacred tradition

Before leaving for a trip to Gyeongju over the Lunar New Year holiday, I joked with a colleague about whether I would run into a gorgeous actor like Kim Sang-gyeong from “The Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate.”
The film by Hong Sang-soo is about an immature actor, Gyeong-su, who happens to have a one night stand with a precocious woman named Sun-young, a professor’s wife. One of the ironies of the movie for me was that the director chose Gyeongju as the film’s setting.
To many Koreans at least, the city is the last place that evokes erotic imagery. For years, the image of the city has been as the capital of the Silla Dynasty with thousands of royal relics and temples.
Koreans marvel about the sacred tradition of the city that was the site of a kingdom in ancient Korean history. It’s certainly no place for the lewd desires of uncivilized modernity.
Yet one of the most powerful images from the film is when Gyeong-su and Sun-young decide on a secret rendezvous in a small alley surrounded by beautiful hanok.
In the next scene, they share a bottle of soju over galbi in a grungy soju joint in the back alley of a market, and ride in a taxi to the Concorde Hotel, where they spend their first night together.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Gyeongju also has a modern aspect. But for me, the movie gave an entirely different meaning to the city, the side that has never been depicted in films before. It was almost surreal.
Indeed, that was exactly the impression we got from Gyeongju while we were looking for restaurants that served traditional Korean food.
One would expect that Gyeongju is the place for traditional delicacies. Yet even the locals in the city admit that the food isn’t something they are so proud of.
Lois, my travel companion, and I asked around everywhere to find restaurants that weren’t extravagantly fancy without being so touristy, either.
But as in many cities in this country that went through hasty tourist development, there were only a few “traditional” villages that turned their hanok into tourist restaurants, serving random Korean food, ranging from yukgaejang to galbi.
We ended up in a kimchi jjigae restaurant, quite coincidentally, just across from the Concorde Hotel.
The meal wasn’t bad. But considering that we were pretty hungry and hadn’t had breakfast, the meal wasn’t that great either.
I promised my colleague that I would send her an urgent text message on my taxi ride in case I ever ran into a man like Kim, and would head to the Concorde Hotel. It never happened.
The closest adventure we had was finding a random couple on the street in Gyeongju who willingly drove us to Ulsan Airport, where our flight was supposed to leave in the evening.
But, overall it wasn’t a bad experience to sip the spicy broth of kimchi jjigae, watching the snow outside the window.
After all, it is the best winter soup.

How to Cook

Kimchi jjigae

Ingredients (for 4 servings): 500g of kimchi, 120g of pork, 1 green onion, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 4 cups chicken/beef broth, 3 teaspoons chili pepper, 1/2 teaspoon crushed ginger.
1. Cut kimchi and pork into bite size pieces.
2. Stir with sesame oil in a heated pot.
3. After cooking 3 or 4 minutes, add garlic, chili pepper, ginger, onion. Add broth.
4. Boil for another 20 to 30 minutes.
From miz.naver.com, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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