Friday, March 15, 2019

[Food] Kimchijjigae (김치찌개, Kimchi stew)


[Food] Kimchijjigae (김치찌개, Kimchi stew)

Typical Kimchijjigae with tuna. Kimchi jjigae is one of Korea's soul-foods.

In the winter of 2013~2014, the Korean peninsular faced record-breaking snow season with strong blizzards in the mountainous Gangwon province. Once I told you in another article that it snowed 3~4 meters high - as high as a small hill.

I was a military paramedic in the 22nd infantry division covering the DMZ area bordering North Korea. Obviously I also had to fight this crazy, insane, ruthless, merciless and nefarious snow; otherwise it would isolate me and my fellow soldiers' supplies by blocking all roads, necessary for border protection. You know food is one of the most important supplies on a battlefield after armor and ammunition supplies.

My seniors in the Korean army usually told this famous proverb :

'Sometimes we may fail our mission, but we must not fail in the adequate and equal distribution of food supply'

Kimchi - one of the most important food in Korean army

Rice - one of the most important food in Korean army
However, there was something that comforted soldiers' hearts, frozen after tons of snow removal work. We had this really fantastic mess personnel (kitchen police) who cooked lovely kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew in Korean). I heard that he majored in Hotel Cooking at university, and he also worked at a fancy Korean restaurant in Gangnam (Yes, Gangnam from the famous 'Gangnam Style') of Seoul. Anyone who tasted his kimchi jjigae shouted :

"Wow...! Get me some soju! (Korean distilled liquor)'

which means :

'Wow....! I know I'm not allowed to drink liquor in the army, but this kimchi jjigae is so good that it makes me eagerly desire a bottle of soju! Right now!'

Kimchijjigae at the left in a golden pot. They are eating kimchi jjigae, stir-fried rice and spicy cold noodle with a bottle of soju
Whenever kimchi jjigae was on the menu in the mess hall, I saw a long queue of fellow soldiers in front of the kitchen who wanted to taste fresh, hot and spicy kimchi jjigae before others - regardless of rank. Oh, yeah...the food plans an amazing role in the Korean army too. I was one of those people too :)

Pork belly and pork neck. Typical ingredients of kimchi jjigae

A kimchi jjigae with chopped pork belly and tofu

Even a few years after my discharge from the army and my work at DMZ, I still can't forget that spicy smell of steaming kimchi jjigae that was waiting for me at the mess hall. The spicy smell and taste tingled my nostrils and mouth, but his kimchi jjigae had the deep meat flavor taste and I felt as if the taste massaged every cell in my body.

The biggest thing about his kimchi jjigae was that it made us all feel as if we were eating mom's kimchi jjigae at home. Even after heavy snow removal work or guard-duty work at the border, this kimchi jjigae relaxed and comforted our hearts with its 'kimchi' flavor....because every Korean mom (usually) cooks great kimchi jjigae for their children. It is such a shame that I can't describe its taste in more depth to you. Yes, I miss it so much.

Cans of cooked tuna in oil

Cooked tuna in oil

Home-made kimchi jjigae with tuna

Today is a heavy rainy day...and I think it will snow soon - not as much as when I was in the army but enough to jog my memory about post-work kimchi jjigae.

I took cans of tuna and kimchi from my cupboard and freezer. The chopped onion and spicy red chili that I have just bought from the nearby market will complement the kimchi and tuna in my kimchi jjigae. My kimchi jjigae is less tasty than the kimchi jjigae that I tasted in the army but it will still fill my hungry tummy.

The taste of that kimchi jjigae is the only reason why I often regret my decision of being discharged from the army. Just kidding XD

Bon Appétit!