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KOREAN CUISINE: THE BEST I’VE EXPERIENCED-
KIMCHI JJIGAE
A Cure for Everyday Sorrows

A gloomy day in Seoul, a tiny annoying rain, and accumulated stress from work. In the morning, too many people in the bus. It’s impossible to find a seat. The only thing to think about is the end of the day, when it’s possible to go back home, and eventually collapse in my bed that was still warm just an hour ago. Half a day of work. . . no energy. But, suddenly, it is lunch time!
What can possibly be more awakening than a good old spicy soup? Korean food does not lack as far as spicy foods are concerned. The red glow, the delicious smell, the vaporous steam of kimchi jjigae(stew) is without precedent. How could you not like the taste, spicy, sour and deep? Without any doubt, it’s the most comforting food in my life. Kimchi jjigae gives you an awakening punch while gently sending stress away and leaving you with a peaceful sensation of freshness and energy to go on with the day.
Make it at home, or eat it in a restaurant, kimchi jjigae will never taste the same. Everyone has their own recipe, their own favorite little touch that changes everything. A little bit of soy paste, more or less chili powder, potatoes to make the soup thicker, maybe some mushrooms, and even the choice between having it vegan, or with tuna, mackerel, or the more traditional thick pork meat. It is hard to find a more representative Korean food, as kimchi constitutes its main ingredient, but it is even harder to find one that varies so much, that can be disguised into so many different characters, and that has so many different personalities.
Not just a food for the stressed out, kimchi jjigae is the perfect dish to ingest when catching a cold as it opens the airways of our bodies and gives a healthy sparkle of energy. Another priceless situation is to havea hot kimchi jjigae the morning after a typical Korean evening spent drinking soju. This stew feels just right, gives a moment of relief and seems to be helpful in overcoming your hangover. This might not seem important, but in a country where the alcohol culture is so deeply entrenched in everyday life, you’ll be happy to wake up to a hot bowl of kimchi jjigae.
Another aspect of kimchi jjigae? You’ll be hard pressed to find a bland one. Doubtless, the quality of the kimchi plays a very great role in the overall taste and feeling of it. Personally, I was not able to eat it when I first came to Korea as I found it too spicy and I would cry if I even dared to try eating it. Nowadays, my level of spice-tolerance has increased so much that I would find any non-spicy dish a bit boring. Honestly, I could not live more than a couple of days without eating kimchi soup.
In Seoul and Korea in general, kimchi jjigae can be found almost anywhere, but there will never be any better kimchi jjigae than the one Korean moms cook for their children. I have tried it at some of my Korean friend’s houses, and the taste is fantastic. Eating kimchi jjigae is just like tasting a bit of Korea itself. Although it truly feels like the essence of Korean cuisine, it is unfortunately very much underrated. But when you do come to like it, you’ll find it very difficult to live without its taste to spice up your life.

- 2014 KF Korean Language Fellow Ariane Romano

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