A bovine body part buffet…

Apologies for the delay, I think it’s taken my stomach a week to get over it, but last Friday I added to the ever-growing list of bovine organs that I have now eaten. My best friend (at least she was up until then!)  took me to her favourite restaurant for what she described as ‘an authentic Korean experience’. That probably should have set alarm bells ringing, but as we’d already polished off a few bottles of soju, we set off, with me proudly announcing that she didn’t need to worry and that I would try anything. In hindsight it might not have been the best choice of words.

Gopchang (곱창) on the left and makchang (막창) on the right…yum

Unable to decide whether we should have cow rectum (막창 – makchang) or intestines (곱창 – gopchang), she ordered a plate of each. And two more bottles of soju. The banchan (side dishes) at this restaurant didn’t just consist of the usual kimchi, bean sprouts and seaweed soup. Oh no, this place served chunks of raw liver with sesame seeds, and something called 천엽 that Google translated as ‘superficial lobe’, but further research has shown me that it’s proper name is the ‘omasum’ and it’s just another part of the stomach (also served raw). The liver was absolutely horrific, and both of us really struggled to eat it, but the 천엽 actually wasn’t so bad. The soju probably helped though.

천엽 (cheonyeop) and raw liver

Mmm…yum yum

Then came the main course; a large plate of 소막창 (cow rectum) and an equally large plate of 소곱창 (cow intestines). Having already eaten 돼지막창 (pig rectum) I kind of knew what to expect, it was just…bigger. Although 소막창 (beef makchang) is meant to be much better than 돼지막창 (pig makchang), I can’t honestly say I’m a fan of either. It’s not because of the taste, it just tastes meaty, but it is simply too chewy for me, although that is part of the appeal for Koreans. I quite liked the gopchang, it tasted a little bit like bacon if I thought really hard about it, and it was a lot less chewy than the makchang. The only slightly off-putting thing was the thick white paste oozing out of either end, which I later learned was mucus.

As the owner was so surprised to see a foreigner in his restaurant (now I know why), he gave us a dish of 염통 (sliced cow heart) as service. I thought it was the nicest part of the meal really, it was a little bit like steak, only it tasted a lot bloodier than that. It was actually quite hard to get the metallic-y taste out of my mouth, but again, the soju helped.

Gopchang and makchang

When I was beginning to struggle both my friend and the restaurant owner kept reassuring me of the supposed health benefits of eating intestines. They also said eating it guaranteed I wouldn’t have a hangover the next day. Lies. Barefaced lies.

Still best friends really!

My real best friend during this meal!

How to make japchae

Japchae (stir fried noodles and vegetables) is one of my absolute favorite Korean dishes. The halmoni who cooks our lunches at school had set the japchae bar pretty high, but last night I decided to have a go at cooking it myself.

Of all the things I thought I’d blog about during my time in Korea, I never imagined that cooking would be one of them! My friends and family will tell you that my strengths do not lie in the kitchen, but I wanted to write this post partly as a memo for me to come back to because there’s no point in me writing it down on paper, I will lose it, but also because I think Korean cuisine is largely overlooked at the moment and I’d love more people to try it.

Japchae is a very versatile dish and can be eaten hot or cold, as a main or a side dish. Seasonal vegetables can be added, as can beef, pork or chicken.

Ingredients

(serves 2)

  • Starch noodles (dangmyun)
  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • 1 medium size carrot
  • A small pack of mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pepper
  1. Slice the mushrooms, cut the carrot into strips, tear the spinach and mince the garlic.
  2. Boil 1 bunch of dangmyun noodles in a saucepan of boiling water for about 3 minutes until soft then drain. Put them in a bowl and add 1 tbsp of soy sauce and 1 tbsp sesame oil and place to one side.
  3. Keep the boiling water to blanche the shredded spinach in while the carrots and mushrooms are cooking.
  4. Heat a couple of drops of oil in a frying pan and add the carrots and the mushrooms. Stir fry over a medium heat for a couple of minutes or so until the mushrooms and carrots are about half cooked (not exactly a technical term sorry!) and then add the minced garlic, blanched spinach and ½  tbsp of soy sauce. Stir fry for another 30 seconds.
  5. Lower the heat and add the cooked noodles, 2 tbsp of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of sesame oil and ½  tsp of black pepper to the pan just to warm through.
  6. Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Japchae was first served during the Joseon Dynasty, in the early 17th century, at one of King Gwanghaegun’s dinner parties. The king was so pleased with this creation that he promoted the cook to the position of hojo panseo 호조판서 (Secretary of the Treasury). That’s the sign of a good dish. Enjoy!

Sisterfood, Bupyeong

Sisterfood, a play on the words ‘sisterhood’ and ‘Asian food’, is a brand new restaurant that has just opened in the back streets of Bupyeong.

It was set up by Incheon Women’s Hotline, an organisation that helps immigrant women, often wives of Korean men, adjust to life here. It is run by a group of volunteers and offers advice, support and free English lessons to women.

We tucked into Vietnamese seafood noodles, Filipino rice cake and fried bananas, Chinese dumplings, Korean sweet potatoes, and of course, the omnipresent dish of kimchi. Everything was authentic and homemade, even the makgeolli!

Our boss’ wife is one of the volunteers, and all of the women there made us feel so welcome. I can’t wait to go back for some more feel-good food!