Thursday, September 6, 2018

[Food] Dwaeji Gukbap (돼지국밥, Pork-Soup with Rice)


Dwaeji Gukbap

(돼지국밥, Pork-Soup with Rice)

I can't exactly recall the date, but it was a freezing cold winter day in January and I was walking alone in crowded downtown Busan. As Busan is located in the far south-east Korea, its climate is warmer than the northern regions of Korea, but it was still cold to me.

It was about 4 years ago and I was feeling both mentally and emotionally exhausted. I was in a cold war with my family between Jerry (yes - me) and my other family members. I wanted to join the Korean Army because I wanted to become someone who could protect his country rather than just idly watch through foreign TV stations. My family didn't understand why I had returned to Korea without finishing my bachelor degree in Uni. Moreover, I was on my way home after breaking up with Sophie. was so...perfect - a miserable day when everyone had turned their back on me. I was one cold and sad animal.

Busan is the 2nd biggest city in Korea and also has the biggest port
 where once was interim capital city during the Korean War.

I had been walking again and again for hours without knowing where I was heading. Then I felt a hunger pang as I stopped at an entrance to Haeundae market near the famous Haeundae beach in Busan. I still don’t know why I stepped into the market, but I think that I was longing for warmth and kindness from others.

An alley in Haeundae market

The owners of each restaurant were busy with cooking and customers. I looked for any quiet Dwaeji Gukbap (Pork-Soup with Rice) restaurant with calmness. Finally I found a restaurant with old couple where serves Dwaeji Gukbap in hot ttukbaegi (Korean black, thick earthen bowl, google it please).

A shop serving porridge in a Korean market

"Ma'am, may I have one Dwaeji Gukbap with extra chives please?"

I ordered my meal while my table was being prepared, hoping that she would give me extra Chinese-cabbage kimchi and raisin kimchi.

"Alright, young man. You don't sound like a local. Where are you from?"

"I'm from a city near Seoul...ah....this place is so cozy and warm..."

Each region in Korea has its own dialect and people can recognize where someone is 

from. She knew I wasn’t from Busan because I spoke standard Korean, which is not very common in Busan.

"Seoul....what brought you to Busan then...?"

" other stuff..."

Then I continued talking gently with grandpa who was sitting at a table watching the 

evening news. I was desperate and hungry and wanted to stop chatting with him, but 

how on earth could I say 'Hi, I'm having a major conflict with my whole family and it's only been a few hours since my ex-girlfriend left me. Hahahahaha.....what a great day, isn't it? It's freaking cold outside and I'm one hungry animal, so would you please quickly serve me some Dwaeji Gukbap?'

No, I could not, because grandpa was just trying to be kind to me with a sorrowful 

look, like any grandpa would show for his grandson.

The most famous Dwaeji Gukbap restaurant in Busan

A typical menu borad in a Dwaeji Gukbap restaurant

It's telling you how to improve the taste of Dwaeji Gukbap

Thankfully, Dwaeji Gukbap was brought by grandma soon after. It was still boiling with the leftover heat with a 'blup blup' sound. Hot vapor soon covered my glasses and face.

'Dwaeji' mean 'a pig' in Korean

Dwaeji Gukbap is usually served with a fermented dish of baby prawns, chives, two kinds of kimchi, bean paste, green spicy chilly, chopped onions, thin noodles and thick red chilly paste.

The origin of Dwaeji Gukbap is uncertain, but it is often served in the Gyeongsang (South-East) province of Korea. 'Guk' means ‘soup’ and 'bap' means ‘cooked rice’ or ‘meal’ in Korean. 'Dwaeji' means ‘pig’ or ‘pork’ so it means 'Pork-Soup with cooked rice' in Korean. It is your choice whether to put a whole or half bowl of rice into soup when eating Gukbap. You can also eat a bowl of rice and soup separately.

The origin of the 'Gukbap (Soup with cooked rice)' is also uncertain, but it is certain that it had begun in the 1800s. Gukbap had become very popular during the Korean War because people could finish eating it faster than any other Korean dish, which means that you can start running earlier for your life in the event of an emergency. It is a very common Korean food and many Koreans go to a Gukbap restaurant when they want to eat out, but don't have any preferred dish.

Dwaeji Gukbap with thick red chilly paste topping

Dwaeji Gukbap with boiled pork slices and Soju (Korean distilled liquor)

"Thanks, ma'am"

"There you go. You look like someone who has had a tough day. Let me give you a soda for free. Take it, it is my pleasure."

Grandma picked out some cool soda in a green glass bottle and put it on the table.

"Thanks a'am..."

I grabbed a spoon and chopsticks, and poured a dish of thin noodles, chives and thick red chilly paste into Gukbap. And I slowly started to move my spoon.

The hot, salty and meaty liquid flowed into me and heated me from head to toe. I then moved my spoon quicker and quicker.

Suddenly, I found a teardrop rolling down my cheek which fell into a bowl of Gukbap. When I saw my reflection on the mirror on the restaurant wall, I saw reddened, swollen eyes. I was crying. I was silent but endless teardrops flowed out of my eyes. I can't remember why I started crying, but I just wanted to be understood and loved by my family or by anyone else. I was yearning for kindness and love – maybe, I guess, some simple kindness. The old couple’s Dwaeji Gukbap touched my heart and made me think of my family and ex-lover.

I realized that the old couple were embarrassed seeing a grown young man starting to cry while eating. But I just couldn't stop myself. Every emotion exploded out of my eyes in tears.

I believe that the smooth warm taste of Gukbap has the power to soften people and their hearts. I guess I had cried suddenly because Gukbap melted my frozen heart that was unexpecting of love or kindness from anyone.

If you have any friends who seem to be in hardship, invite them to have Gukbap together. Maybe it can soothe their pain like it did for me :)

Bon appétit!

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