Japchae

Japchae is one of the most comprehensive dishes in terms of variety of ingredients and a very popular dish on birthdays.

This is one of the best loved Korean noodle dishes by Koreans as well as by foreign visitors to Korea. The main ingredients are sweet potato noodles which are combined with a lot of different vegetables and meats. Japchae combines over 20 different vegetables with pheasant meat and was eaten by Korean kings and the royal family.

Korea was colonized by Japan between 1910 and 1945, Beginning in 1920, Korea underwent drastic changes under Japanese rule not only in politics but also culturally including food too. After 1920 Japchae, previously a dish for the upper classes, was commoditised and became available in restaurants dish using sweet potato noodles coming from China.

In 1592 Japan invaded Korea the war, we call Imjin Waelan, lasted for 6 years. When the war finished and Japan retreated, there was not enough food for the people also there was no palace left for the king. It was at this time that Japchae became very highly prized by the King.

There is a written record that two low class men, with power over many farmers collected all the ingredients and bribed the king with Japchae and then, the king knighted them. The other courtiers sarcastically called them the Japchae knights.

Speaking of which,

“Innocent if rich, guilty if poor”, is a well-known adage in Korea.

The Vice Chairman of Samsung Electronics had been found guilty of bribing the former president, Park Geunhye. So, I guess bribery is still the route to power.

 

Temple Kimbap

Many years ago, I had a chance to learn about temple food for 2 months from a famous monk-chef in Korea. One of his teachings was what we eat and when we eat is very important.

In the morning, eat light food like porridge, for lunch have solid food, a full meal but asmall amount. For dinner in the evening eat just fruits. Eat seasonal food when you can because they are best fresh and most nutritious. Eat a little as you can and don’t eat meat.

Temple food is naturally healthy and vegetarian. It has become increasingly popular in Korea because people are concerned about their wellbeing.

Unfortunately, monks and nuns do not use onions, garlic, chives, spring onions or leeks, the most common five pungent, spicy vegetables. In Korea we call these five forbidden vegetables “o-shin-chae”. Their intense scent and spiciness may distract monks during meditation. Until recently, I always tried to avoid eating “o-shin-chae”.  I don’t why but I didn’t like their smells.

In keeping with the Buddhist principle of harmony with nature ,  Tofu is a vital source of protein for monks as well as one of the main ingredients in temple food. Seaweed has been a part of Korean diet for centuries as well as being a seasoning in temple food.