Tuesday, December 4, 2018

[Food] Makguksu (막국수, Cold Buckwheat Noodle)


[Food] Makguksu (막국수, Cold Buckwheat Noodle)

Mr. Roh’s hometown is Pyeongyang, North Korea, but now he lives in Abai (meaning 'Father' in N.Korean dialect) - a village of Sokcho city in South Korea. He has been running a N.Korean food restaurant since 1955 in the village of Abai. Well, he is one of my grandfather’s friends; that is how I got to know him when I visited his restaurant with my grandpa as a little kid. He was a very good friend of my grandfather, sharing a long friendship, and he cried as if he had lost his mom when my grandpa passed away.

What I really like about him is that he is the hidden grandmaster of Makguksu (막국수, Cold Buckwheat Noodle) in Korea who can cook Makguksu from raw buckwheat to its complete dish.

Today, I have come to enjoy his great Makguksu for a long while. His Makguksu is very simple but not easy to make, and needs some toughness and tenderness to turn hard buckwheat into powder and then buckwheat dough. He first grinds all buckwheat with a grinding machine, and then takes the powder to his noodle workshop beside his restaurant.

Buckwheat flowers. Buckwheat is very well-known to Koreans because of the novel 'At the bloom of buckwheat' by the famous novelist Hyo-Seok Lee. Hyo-Seok Lee likened buckwheat flowers to swarms of stars at night :)

An image from the novel 'At the bloom of buckwheat'

 Buckwheat. Buckwheat has been planted and grown in Korea since the 7-8th centuries. Wheat was a very rare ingredient so Koreans rather used buckwheat for cooking :)

"Papa Roh! How's everything? Any good news from the National Red Cross?" 

"Good...good...yeah, the red cross guys sent me a good letter yesterday..haha.."

Mr. Roh grinned with wrinkles round his eyes. He looked happier than last time I saw him.

"Now you can finally ask your family in N.Korea about the secret recipe of Makguksu and its Dongchimi (동치미, Cold white radish kimchi), right? haha!"

I hugged him as I hugged my grandpa when he was alive.

"Shut up, my mom must have already died some decades ago...maybe my brother and sister will tell me for sure. What do you want to have today?"

"Makguksu with Dongchimi and steamed pork please, sir."

Dongchimi (동치미). Makguksu is originally buckwheat noodle in cold Dongchimi soup :) 

"Mr. Roh. Can I ask you something? I don't know why I haven't asked you this so far"

"What is that, young man?"

"Why did you start making Makguksu? Grandpa once told me that you were a farmer in N.Korea before the Korean War."

"Yeah...you are right. I was a farmer before I joined the Korean War.."

He took out buckwheat dough from his kitchen and started to press a bunch of noodles out of the noodle machine. I can see thick steam from boiling buckwheat noodle with the smell of buckwheat :)

White Kimchi and chopped sweet-sour radish. Typical Makguksu banchan (side dish).

Sliced steamed pork and chopped spicy radish. They are usually eaten with Makguksu in Korea.

"But why Makguksu? Is that your favorite menu?"

"It was my mom's best menu."

Mr. Roh answered with sweat on his forehead. Soon, a large bowl of Makguksu and sliced steamed pork came to the table.

"In North Korea, we used to eat cold Makguksu in winter...my dad usually asked my mom to bring a bowl of Dongchimi from crocks at the front yard and he pressed buckwheat noodle out of his noodle machine at the kitchen. Then they throw buckwheat noodle into a bowl of Dongchimi, that's Makguksu."

Actually, Makguksu means 'A noodle that has just been made'. 'Mak' means 'Just' and 'Guksu' means 'Noodle' in Korean.

"Oh....you must miss your parents and their Makguksu."

"Yeah...I miss my mom's Dongchimi and dad's buckwheat noodle...haha..."

He started his talk quietly as he sat in front of me with a smile.

"..........One day.....long time ago, when I wore younger man's clothes....it was a very peaceful day before they conscripted me into the N.Korean Army..."

"I never thought you were conscripted by the N.Korean Army, Mr. Roh. I thought you were a refugee from N.Korea..."

"Oh, well. I don't like to talk about it much because I hate the communist army. I'm never proud of it. Anyway, that's not the point. I thought I would just go for army training for 3 or 4 weeks so I was thinking about eating Makguksu after completing it. On that day, I left my home, and mom asked me 'What do you want to have after training?' and I answered her 'Your Makguksu, mom'."

Buckwheat noodle

Dongchimi soup

Original Makguksu that has been eaten in N.Korea might look like this: just noodles and Dongchimi soup :)
"But....the Korean War broke out as history tells."

"Yeah....(sniffle).....that was the last time I ever saw my family in my life. The N.Korean Army invaded S.Korea after a few days and I fought against S.Korea and the U.N.'s Army. However, thank God, I became a prisoner of war in S.Korea and survived....but I couldn't ever return to my hometown .....and couldn't taste her Makguksu either...ever..."

I also 'quietly' swallow Makguksu with cold soup as I wait for him to continue his story.

"Later, I settled down in Sokcho where I could be closest to N.Korea, where I could go faster than anyone when the day of reunification comes....I missed my family's Makguksu so much, it is unforgettable...how can I forget...? I still remember the whole recipe.. and that's why I started Makguksu restaurant..."

He wiped tears from his cheeks. Hm....I began to feel sorry that I pushed his 'tear' button. I didn't want to sink into a sad mood with him...;;

"Uhm, Mr. Roh, when is the day of inter-Korean separated family reunion?"

"Yes, reunion! Haha, next month! The red cross guys told me that my sister and brother are still alive...."

Phew, now he is in a happy mood. I didn't know that Mr.Roh has this sad story.

"Then you can complete your original Makguksu as you had eaten when you were a kid."

"Yeah, I hope they still remember mom's recipe...haha.."

There is a calendar on the wall of his restaurant, and I can see a big red circle on the day of inter-Korean reunion next month. That day must be the day that Mr.Roh will meet his N.Korean family for the first and last time in his life.

Mool Makguksu (Original Makguksu)

Bibim Makguksu (Makguksu with spicy sauce)

"I'm leaving Mr. Roh. Thank you for your story and for Makguksu: please tell me more about your family when I visit you next month...I look forward to eating your Makguksu again."

He nodded with a big grin.

"Come again, young man. I will let you taste my perfect Makguksu, haha.."

"Yeah, please let me taste it..."

Instant Makguksu noodle

I’ve heard from the news that there are still millions of separated families in North and South Korea who haven't met since the Korean War. I hope Korea will be reunited again soon and all families will see their lost members again :)

Bon appétit!

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