Wanna eat like a real ajumma? Try some ssambapDepartment stores in Korea are a shopping haven for all generations. Young or old, women or men, everybody can enjoy department stores to buy holiday gifts or simply kill time escaping the weather into a climate controlled environment. But recently I discovered that department stores are also an urban resort for Korean housewives.
While spending a few hours in a downtown department store, it was interesting to peek into their ordinary lives. But it also raised a few questions about the culture of middle class Korean ajummas.
Just exactly who are the Korean ajummas?
As I stepped onto the floor that carried buin-bok or “wife clothes,” which are made by local designers and tailored to the tastes of older women, I came to wonder what exactly it means to wear “wife clothes” in Korea. Does it simply refer to older women? Or does it mean married women who are no longer charming?
At exactly which point of your marriage do you become a “wife” and exude a “wife” aura? When do you begin to want the kind of clothes sold on the wives floor of your local department store? I don't mean to pick on the fashion sensibilities of innocent women. And let’s not forget that the taste of middle-aged men in most Seoul offices doesn’t say much about refined style either. But in Korean society, the idea of a “wife clothes” often means nothing more than tacky dresses.
What they call “wives’ cloths” in department stores seems to signify a lot more than stylistic choices. They are a symbol of stubborn, tasteless ajummas who shove into the subway crowd without apologizing and talk for hours about real estate over lunch.
On TV shows, the glowing flowers on their shirt are often used to signify their vigorous energy when they snatch the last bag of spinach on sale at a supermarkets. The exaggerated pads on their shoulders are an embarrassing sample of their vanity.
But at the end of the day, the best place to feel the spirit of housewives, was at a ssambap restaurant. Ssambap, or “rice wrap,” comes with a plate of fresh vegetables to wrap the rice. On the top floor of my local department store, the ssambap restaurant was filled with women on high school reunions and neighborly get-togethers, laughing and chatting. Although the women were loud and aggressive, the scene was strangely warm.
There was something very natural and courageous about how the women spread their hands to grab a lettuce wrap then opened their mouths wide to eat them with a single gulp.
Their eating style seemed to fit who they were in a package as tight as a piece of lettuce around a ball of rice.
In the end, it’s not easy to describe what you like or what you’ve become. But for Korean ajumma, ssambap was something that said it all.
How to Cook
Ingredients (for 1 serving): 300 g of lettuce, sesame leaves, buk choy, chicory and other vegetables.
For sauce: 3 teaspoons of chilli paste, 3 teaspoons of soy bean paste, 1 teaspoon of diced green onion, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds.
1. Prepare a plate of fresh vegetables.
2. Serve with steamed rice and sauce.
by Park Soo-mee