Sunday, November 18, 2018

[Food] Kalguksu (칼국수, Chopped noodle)


[Food] Kalguksu (칼국수, Chopped noodle)

A typical Kalguksu

Grandma became very weak after her bathroom accident. That day, the bathroom floor was very slippery (because of the water) and she fell. She broke her femur and had major surgery.

Well, this accident wasn't the only reason she became weak because she was already over 90 when it happened. It just made us (me and my family) so sad. That's all.

I liked my grandparents. Grandpa was a fishing master and.....grandma was a Korean master chef (to me only, as every grandmother is considered a master chef by their grandchildren.) 

She was good at making almost every Korean food. From Kimchi, Doenjangjjigae, Bulgogi, Tangguk, a variety of herbs, rice cakes, Sikhye (Traditional Korean rice drink) and so on.

I visited my family in Busan last Chuseok (It's like Korean Thanksgiving  Day), and grandma was there too.





Grandma smacked shoulders as I shouted because she couldn't hear my sound well. I guess my voice had hit her eardrums way too hard.

"Ouch! That hurts, grandma!"

"I'm not deaf, I just can't hear you well...since when have you been here? You almost freaked me out."

"Hehe...just now. You want me to massage your shoulders?"

She grinned.

"Yeah. I've missed your hands, Jerry."

It is such a sad thing to see your loving family getting old and thinking about their death. At every Chuseok or Korean New Year, she always cooked many things with a bag of flour. They weren't luxury or expensive dishes but filled with her love. One of them was Kalguksu (Chopped noodle). 'Kal' means 'a knife' and 'Guksu' means 'a noodle', so Kalguksu means 'A noodle that is chopped with a knife'.

After all the ancestral rites and ceremonies, she kneaded dough with left-over flour and turned them into a bunch of noodles. 6 grandchildren - including myself - loved to watch her cooking and to eat her dish. It was a magical scene for young children. Powder is mixed with water, then it becomes a dough. She had spread dough into wide sheets then rolled them into a cylinder-like shape.

Then they became as you see in the below pictures...

Grandma's magic had turned a simple dough into hundreds of strings :) It was just amazing to me. There are many types of Kalguksu in Korea. Let me introduce them to you :)

1. Kalguksu (Original)

Kalguksu's origin is not certain but it became very common in Korea after 1950 when Korea was supplied with bags of flours and corn-flours after the notorious Korean War (1950~1953 A.D.). Koreans had started producing many noodles with these supplies and flour-made noodles had become a very popular and cheap dish in Korea, instead of rice which was expensive at that time.

Dried anchovy, dried kelp, dried mini shrimps, onion, coarsely chopped garlic and zucchini. They are basic ingredients for original Kalguksu that my grandma used to make for us. The plain but salty flavor of dried sea-food gives a very attractive flavor with plain noodles. I have never seen anyone (including kids) who hate the original Kalguksu.

Kalguksu with perilla powder in it. Personally I like Kalguksu with perilla powder. It has an extra nutty flavor.

Myeongdong Kalguksu. The most famous Kalguksu in Korea. Thick beef stock soup with thin dumplings as the unique feature of the noodle.

2. Manila clam Kalguksu

Kalguksu with Manila clam and seafood is usually cooked in the western coastal regions of Korea where it has vast tideland. Clam and seafood stock gives you a very refreshing flavor of the sea (maybe you don't understand this flavor. So you'd better eat it if you have a chance later). It is not a salty or nutty flavor but a unique taste from the sea that refreshes your insides.

3. Chicken Kalguksu

This is another of my favorite kalguksu :) Its deep and thick chicken flavor restores your energy levels. Koreans like to eat chicken kalguksu after finishing Samgyetang (삼계탕, Traditional Korean chicken soup). They just toss ready-made (fresh) noodles into the chicken soup and enjoy it until its last drop

4. Jang Kalguksu (Kalguksu with Red chili / Doenjang(bean paste) )

This Kalguksu is a unique dish in the north-eastern region of Korea only. They put red chili and/or Doenjang (bean paste) into Kalguksu's original soup to give it a spicy and more refreshing flavor. You can taste it in the Gangwon (north-eastern province) region of Korea only in Sokcho, Gangneung, Wonju etc.

5. Red-bean Kalguksu

This is also a very unique type of Kalguksu. People in the south-west region (Jeonra province) of Korea put Kalguksu noodles into red-bean soup and season it with salt (if you prefer the salty taste) or sugar (if you prefer sweetness). I'd rather have a salty than sweet one but my friend from Jeonra province loves the sweet one :P. I think this Kalguksu was made somewhat by chance or something...maybe with a story like, 'someone dropped noodles into red-bean soup and he/she tatsted it. And it tasted really good so they began to make red-bean Kalguksu'....doesn't it make sense? :)

"Jerry, that's enough. That was one fine massage and chat...thank you."

"No worries, anytime grandma. Grandma, do you remember Kalguksu that you usually made for us at Chuseok and New Year?"

" you want to have them today?"

I nodded with a big smile, and she laughed.

"Jerry..Jerry...Jerry.....sorry but I have no power to knead or chop dough, kiddo."

"Oh, then I will be your avatar."


"Avatar, grandma. I can cook some, so you just tell me what to do. I will do it instead of you, deal?"

"Deal. Come, help me get up. Take me to the kitchen please, Jerry."

"Sure thing, ma'am."

I took out a paper bag of flour and poured it into a stainless bowl with tap water, and began to do what grandma told me to do. Oh, well, it wasn't easy at all. I had to press, roll, spread, press, roll, spread.....this 'kneading' process kept on going till the dough become tough and soft enough. My arms and hands were so sore as I did weight-training with heavy dumbbells.

Instant Jang Kalguksu
Instant Manila clam Kalguksu

I had never kneaded dough myself before (And also never knew 'kneading' was such a tough job) so I regretted becoming grandma's 'Cook-Avatar' so much.

"Grandma, how did you do this every year? Do you really love cooking?"

"Nah, Jerry."

She smiled.

I remember when she was cooking Kalguksu for us, she seemed to be very happy. 

"I don't understand, grandma. You didn't need to cook them for us, I wouldn't ask you to cook it if I ever knew this was so hard job for you."

"Haha...Jerry. You know nothing."


She smiled again. And I began to roll the dough and chop it. Chopping the dough wasn't easy work either.

"What....then....? Why would you do such a thing like this?" I said with grimace. 

She answered.

"Because I loved you, Jerry."


"I liked cooking and Kalguksu, but they were not what I loved. I loved you, that's why I cooked. Haha....oh, don't forget to sprinkle some more flour on the chopping board...."

Oh well, I think that I learned something really important from grandma that day.

Bon appétit!

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