Springtime in St. Louis sucks. As an Alabamian, I am used to nearing 80 degrees weather with a mild breeze in the air, but instead, I am greeted with rain, mud, and really uninviting weather conditions. Also, the rain is not the type of rain you can avoid with an umbrella. First, there’s side wind, which wreaks havoc on my umbrella (I’m on my 3rd one right now) and soaks me no matter which way I hold my umbrella. And second, it’s drizzling, which means putting an umbrella up is a hassle but not using an umbrella leads you to getting completely drenched.
Back at home, whenever it was gloomy, my mom would make two dishes: kimchi buchimgae (김치 부침개) and kal-guksu (칼국수). The first one is most commonly referred to a kimchi pancake and a favorite among Western palates for its fried-and-doughy texture and savory and spicy flavors. The kal-guksu is a noodle dish traditionally made with hand-made and knife-cut noodles (which in Korean is “kal” or 칼). The broth is usually derived from dried anchovies, shellfish, and kelp.
My mom’s kimchi buchimgae is not the best, I will say. She will take extremely fermented kimchi, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and add them to a mixture of water, flour batter, egg, and sometimes seafood. She then fries it in a pan until the edges are slightly crisp, just how I like it. Her buchimgae is usually a bit too wet; she adds to much kimchi sauce to the mixture, thus resulting in a somewhat floppy and viscous pancake. Now, this isn’t to discredit her cooking abilities as they far exceed mine, but I’m just saying. It could be better (I’m sure I sound like a pompous ass, but I mean no harm).
Despite her buchimgae being a bit too watery, it has a special ingredient in it that reminds me of home. I think it’s the kimchi. She makes it herself. Store-bought kimchi is not great, and my mom really enjoys her kimchi recipe, which has been passed down for generations. Something about eating a dish that dates back hundreds of years is really intriguing.
Her kal-guksu is where you can really taste the hominess. She simmers the broth for hours until it’s rich, clean, but very distinct. Combining this with the chewy, freshly made noodles she ships over from her favorite noodle maker in Korea, I’d say this is the perfect dish. Add a piece of slightly sour kimchi, and any negative contemplations you’ve had all day will honestly dissipate.
I’m not really sure why kal-guksu and kimchi buchimgae are usually eaten when the weather is bad. I’m sure there’s a really long and historically supported answer as to why, but my assumption is because almost every family in Korea unanimously enjoys the two dishes and find them “easy” to make. It may be feeling of comfort associated with the dish too. Koreans use recipes that have been passed down for generations with little to no alterations; preserving the past is something that we are big on. We are a small country, the size of a tiny bean compared to America, but we have a rich history, and I think we like to look at food as something that has always been a constant throughout our bumpy history. It’s a nice image to have.
Sites for pictures:
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/7-rainy-day –> rainy day
http://blog.daum.net/pinkymind/3548703 –> kimchi buchimgae
http://koreamz.com/page/page.php?n=26473 –> kal-guksu