Tuesday, September 11, 2018

[Food] Kongnamool Guk (콩나물국, Beansprout Soup)


[Food] Kongnamool Guk (콩나물국, Beansprout Soup)

Mung beans which grow into beansprouts

Full-grown beansprouts

My old man (Yes, my dad) was a typical Korean Ahjussi (아저씨, it means an uncle or an old man in Korean) and also a heavy drinker. He was some senior department supervisor or other in a high position in the well-known S corporation in Korea (Yes, if you are thinking of the famous Korean company with electronics...that will be the one:) ). It was everyday life for him to go to a Korean BBQ restaurant or bar for some bottles of Soju (Korean distilled liquor) with his colleagues after work. Whenever he drank Soju, he drank a lot (I think he drank like 2 or 3 glass bottles) till his face flushed red and he hummed out an old Korean song that I had never heard of, despite mom's high-pitched nagging 'Did you marry Soju or me?'

Nevertheless, I didn't hate drunken daddy (except the times when he complained about his boss, politicians, company or department) because he usually brought a bag of fish-shaped buns (with sweet red bean inside) in his arms for me and my sister who were 8 and 9 years old, respectively. Whenever he arrived at the front door of our home, he hugged us really tightly and rubbed his spiky beard on our cheeks. We jovially screamed at him because his short beard scratched us so hard. But we liked it.

To relieve my dad from his previous night’s hangover, mom cooked 'Kongnamool Guk (콩나물국, Beansprout Soup)' for next day's breakfast for dad in his favorite style. She used anchovy and kelp stock, then poured a handful of minced garlic, red chilly powder and chopped spring onion to create a spicy flavor. Beansprouts have to be fully cooked in a pot - or else it tastes shockingly fishy - so the house was filled with the smell of boiled beansprouts every time she cooked Kongnamool Guk. And I still miss the time when 8 year-old Jerry - me - woke up sniffing Kongnamool Guk.

Mild cold Korea-style beansprout

Spicy cold Korean-style beansprout
Anyway, this is why I could always find a bag of beansprouts in my family's freezer. It was one of my family's favorite ingredients and mom cooked them into a spicy cold side dish or hot spicy soup (They both were spicy because my family usually preferred a spicy dish).

I know that beansprouts have been eaten in Korea for more than 1,000 years. Scientists found out that beansprouts help relieve a hangover and cold. It also has plenty of vitamins and minerals so beansprout soup has been used in Korea as medicine for a hangover for a long time.

Dried full-grown anchovy

Sliced kelp

Today, more than 20 years have passed since that time. I'm standing alone in my kitchen cooking Kongnamool Guk for myself. Don't get me wrong, I didn't drink. I'm unlike my dad but more like my mom, so I can't drink to the point of getting a hangover. Spicy Kongnamool Guk is just my favorite dish at any time - breakfast, lunch or supper. My family doesn't live together anymore; the four of us are all separated and live in different cities or houses. However, there was a time when my family was so happy together. My humming and drunken father, my nagging and cooking mother and my giggling sister and I. We woke up with the smell of spicy Kongnamool Guk, which is what I'm cooking right now, and had the same breakfast dish that my dad had before he went to work and before we went to school. It was everyday stuff - nothing special - but I was happy with my family.

Hot, spicy, salty and steamy Kongnamool Guk floats up my nose and reminds me of dad and mom. I wonder what my mom would have thought when cooking for us every morning. What would my dad have thought when he went to work? I don't know because I'm single and without kids yet.

Mild-flavored beansprout soup

Spicy-flavored beansprout soup

Regardless, I'm pretty certain that they loved us. Every time I eat beansprout soup, I can go back to my childhood and family (in my mind), though I live alone now. Beansprout soup is proof that my parents loved us and once lived together. Maybe someday, I think I will cook and serve beansprout soup for my wife and kids to love them, like my parents did :)

Bon appétit!

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