My First 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon)
Today, for the first time, my friends and I cooked Korean food on our own. My mom is Korean, and when she makes Korean food, I’m typically assigned the task of chopping vegetables or mixing salt into rice or some else mundane. The most pivotal role I’ve played in Korean food prep up until today has been spreading rice and vegetables on a sheet of seaweed and rolling it up to make kimbap, the Korean lookalike of sushi. Even then, my aunt was working beside me, bestowing frequent advice: don’t spread the rice all the way to the end of the sheet, or it’ll splurt out when you roll it; put the spinach and radish in this order to make it look prettier.
But today, a few friends and I attempted to prepare a dish without any guidance or prior experience making it: Jajangmyeon. Like miso soup, the dish is based on fermented soybean paste. Noodles are drowned in a black, savory-sweet soybean sauce. It may sound strange at first, I realize, but hear me out. First into the sauce is pork belly, fried to a golden brown. Next, diced onion and cubes of zucchini and potato are added and cooked until soft. Finally, globs of the deep black soybean sauce are stirred in, turning the whole dish black. Crisp slivers of cucumber are arranged on top of each serving.
Also on the menu for our Saturday dinner: Aloe vera juice, ginger dumplings, sweet spiced pickles, and mango mochi. Most of our cooking supplies were funded by a Caltech grant literally named the “Fun Fund.” The Don Shepard Fun Fund randomly distributes twenty-five dollars to about a hundred Caltech undergrads each term just to “do something fun,” as long as it has “socially redeeming value.” I’ve entered the lottery for this all three terms, and have won it twice. Both times I’ve used it for—guess what—food.
Feels like a family dinner. PC: Juliette