19 (Sat) March 2011
at Imjin Gang Pokpo Eojang
-Paju, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
w MtG, CBD
Jabchae (잡채) is a Korean dish. Glass noodles and thinly sliced and parboiled vegetables – typically spinach, carrots, onions, and shiitake mushrooms – and usually pork or beef, though it can be purely vegetarian, all tossed together with sesame oil and soy sauce. The name literally means “assorted (jab) vegetables (chae).” Someone once told me that the name’s etymology is the same as Chinese chop suey, but I’ve never bothered to confirm this claim.
Not that we ever need a specific reason to go camping, but this time we gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of our members, HS. His wife YH, a legendary campsite cook, told the rest of us to leave the food to her. Nobody objected. One of the dishes that she served, much to everyone’s delight, was jabchae.
Having grown up in California, I seem to recall jabchae as something of a staple at any big gathering within the Korean-American community – e.g., at holiday barbecues or church picnics. If someone had asked me about the dish before this weekend, I probably would have described it as a rather commonplace item, one that’s made in bulk and cheaply for large groups eating buffet-style.
Now that I look back at the last few years here in Korea, however, I’m beginning to realize that jabchae is regarded more highly in the motherland. It’s a specialty item found either in traditional Korean restaurants as part of a multi-course meal or at home on special occasions when the cook wants to impress the guests.
Either way, it makes sense. The process of making jabchae is quite time-consuming and labor-intensive, each ingredient requiring individual preparation before being mixed with the others in the end. It demonstrates care. But so long as one is willing to go to the trouble, a large quantity takes about the same effort as a small one (i.e., think of the difference between making a cake and a cupcake). In fact, I’ve never seen anyone make a small quantity of jabchae. All of the ingredients, as described above, are relatively affordable. And once finished, the dish holds up quite well in the open for extended periods: it’s meant to be eaten at room temperature, nothing in it spoils easily, the elastic noodles don’t get mushy, and the oil keeps everything from drying out.
Anyway, the jabchae on this particular evening was great.
(For more details re food, see WHAT)
(For more details re venues, see WHERE IN KOREA)
(For more details re campsites, see CAMPING SITES)