Thursday, November 1, 2018

[Food] Jaban Godeunguh (자반 고등어, Salted Mackerel)


[Food] Jaban Godeunguh (자반 고등어, Salted Mackerel)


My father - like his dad (my grandfather) - loved fishing and his hometown is Busan, which is home to Korea's biggest port. Naturally he learned fishing from a young age from his dad, who also loved fishing. My grandfather enjoyed taking his children to any pier or wharf to fish together, and my father was a beloved child who, unlike other siblings, learned to fish very quickly .

"Dad, I've got some instant coffee. You want some?"

"Sure. it's so good that you brought a bottle of hot water."

It was last November - the 10th anniversary of my grandfather's passing from a sudden stroke. Dad and I went fishing to the pier where my grandfather used to go fishing with dad. Well, I didn't know how to knot a fishing line, a sinker, float, rod and so on, so dad helped me with everything. While he was busy with the fishing tackle, I made instant coffee for him and I.

Soon, we cast the fishing line far from the shore towards the darkened sea. The floats shined and waltzed on the waves.

"Dad, what made you come and do fishing here? You haven't done any fishing since grandpa's death."

I broke the awkward silence between dad and I because I couldn't understand why he asked me to go fishing, and he remained quiet, which is very different from 'normal' dad. Moreover, he had never wanted me to go fishing with him since I was 20.

"I don't know....maybe salted mackerel...." 

Dad murmured.


"Salted mackerel. Your grandpa brought some mackerel and roasted them for his kids whenever he went fishing. I miss that..."

Mackerel is very friendly dish, and one of the cheapest fish in Korea.
"Oh, are you saying that the roasted salted-mackerel that we had for tonight's dinner made you reminisce of your times fishing with grandpa?"

"Yeah....sort know, unlike today, salted-mackerel was not a cheap dish when I was young."

"Ooh....that is unbelievable..."

"Your grandpa and I were so good at fishing, we used to fish a lot here...yeah, just where we are now. Once we caught so many mackerel and took them home, and your grandma nagged grandpa saying 'I don't want my house to be a fish-shop anymore' but your uncle and aunts liked it. That day, we could eat roasted salted-mackerel till we could smell fish in our mouths. Hahaha..."

"I never imagined roasted salted-mackerel could be so touching, dad."

Roasted salted-mackerel

Mackerel has been eaten by Koreans for a long time. Mackerel is a very impatient fish, which means it dies very quickly after a few minutes of extreme flip-flopping. So our ancestors had to find a way to prevent mackerel from becoming stale while being transported to other cities by sea.

Koreans found out that the way to preserve mackerel was with salt, which produced tastier mackerel. This has been passed down to present-day Korea :) Today, Andong is the most famous city for salted mackerel production with its salted-fish preservation skills. 

Andong Market

Mr. Dongsam Lee. The master of salted-mackerel preservation.

The body of  a mackerel being sprinkled with salt for preservation

Salted mackerels are being roasted on a grill.

"I just wanted to know how my dad would have felt taking me fishing..." 

Dad sniffled without looking at me.

"How do you feel?"

"I can't say. You'll feel it someday with your child, kiddo."

"Do you still miss grandpa, dad?" I asked.

"Yeah. And I regret that I didn't fulfil the favor he asked me one week before his death."

"What was that?"

Dad was silent for a few minutes and said,

"He wanted to go fishing with me. and...uhm....I said 'No, not now.'....I was such an idiot...I never thought that would be his last wish before he died."

"...........I'm so sorry to hear that..." I was sniffling too.

then, suddenly the floats disappeared and we felt fish taking the bait.

"Dad! Pull!"

"Oh, my!"

We drew the fishing rod up and there was a mackerel for each of us :)

"Dad, I guess this is an answer from grandpa."

"..........." Dad nodded.

"Dad, are you crying?"

"No, you idiot! It's just raindrops falling from the sky."

"'s not raining here."

"Yes, it is. Above my head!" 

Anyway, dad and I caught 6 mackerels that day which we roasted on a grill the next day :)

A packet of salted-mackerel to be cooked at home

A meal with roasted salted-mackerel

I remember the conversation that dad and mom had the next day :

"Honey, where did you get all these fish by the way?"

"It's from your father-in-law, sweetheart."

Bon appétit!

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