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NEWSLETTER > Essay > KOREAN CUISINE: THE BEST I’VE EXPERIENCED The Great Taste of Pajeon

KOREAN CUISINE: THE BEST I’VE EXPERIENCED
The Great Taste of Pajeon

It was nine years ago, in that welcoming early heat of a Korean summer when the leaves are fully out but the rain and humidity have not yet arrived, that my friends and I enjoyed a really delicious pajeon. While travelling around Jeollanam-do and Gyeongsangnam-do we chanced across a small tea plantation, whose fields lay across the lower knuckles on fingers of steep hills which had swept around to form a quiet, verdant valley. The day was warm enough to encourage us to explore the valley, but hot enough that we soon sought rest in shade.
The pajeon house, little more than a shack, appeared before us and its dark, cool interior invited us in. Behind ran a small river, dotted with boulders upon which balanced low tables for guests, and over which arched trees offering blessed shade. It was serenity itself.
Pajeon was the perfect accompaniment. Panfried, fairly simple, it is surprisingly full of taste; spring onions bite through the oil’s grease, and if a little kimchi is mixed in it gives a tangy, fresh juiciness that contrasts with the batter. The slight creaminess and light fizz of a refreshing makgeolli make it pajeon’s natural companion.
The pajeon we had that day was delicious and memory of its taste has stayed with me to this day. But it tasted better than other pajeons not because of the way it was cooked but because it was eaten with good friends in such a harmonious scene. I guess what really makes a meal is not just the taste of the food itself, but with whom and where it is eaten, too. This idea is apparently one reason why “meokbang (scenes of people eating appetizing-looking food)” is so popular in Korea; a meal tastes better when it’s shared, even if your companion is an online stranger.
But it’s not just having the right people with you that makes a meal; it’s the environment, too. Korean poet Yun Seon-do once waxed on his five friends—water, stone, bamboo, pine, and the moon rising over an eastern mountain—and asked rhetorically what more he could ask for than these. Yun, being in exile at the time, may have had his tongue slightly in cheek when he wrote that, but I think he does have a point. In the rush to industrialize and improve levels of material comfort, we shouldn’t overlook or jeopardize the natural treasures we started with.
I think that’s what makes pajeon truly special. Not just its taste itself, which is delicious enough. But that it is so typically enjoyed with our close friends, and that on rare days we are able to escape the city and enjoy it in the beautiful surrounds of the Korean countryside.

KF Korean Fellow
Tristan Webb

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