9 (Fri) October 2020
Truly a Felicitous Combination
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (7)
Endeavoring to read the 99 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922 – leading up to the 100th winner to be announced next year – I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal, literally give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
(For additional posts relating to Newbery Medal books, see NEWBERY)
A Single Shard (2002) by Linda Sue Park. The book is about Tree-Ear, a homeless orphan in 12th century Korea, who lives under a bridge with his friend and mentor Crane-man. Through a turn of events, Tree-Ear becomes an apprentice for Min, master potter of celadon ceramics; though the apprenticeship is unpaid, the potter’s wife provides lunch every day for Tree-Ear, who always reserves half to be shared with Crane-man after work under the bridge. I really appreciated this book for the sweet if saccharine story and positive if predictable life lessons, though a bit corny in its oriental schtickiness.
“Bean curd tonight,” Crane-man would say, his eyes gleaming. “With cucumber kimchee as well. Truly a felicitous combination. Soft bean curd – crunchy cucumber. Bland bean curd – spicy cucumber. That woman is an artist.”
A new tofu product from Pulmuone: Yet (옛) (old) Dubu (두부) (tofu). According to the packaging, the cakes are made with traditional drying techniques, supposedly resulting in richer flavor.
While they did seem to be a bit nuttier in taste – boiled in salt water – I found that the rough and rustic texture was the highlight, making the cakes feel handmade.
Anyway, the Yet Dubu was perfectly suited for this particular application, even if only in name.
Whereas kimchi as a pickled vegetable dates back to at least the Three Kingdoms period around start of the common era, kimchi developed into spicy versions sometime after the early 17th century, when chili peppers were first introduced to East Asia by European traders. Recipes of the 19th century show further evolution of the dish to include more pungent ingredients, such as garlic and ginger, shrimp paste, fish sauce, as well as a broader variety of vegetables, including the then-newfangled, now-standard napa cabbage. Until then, kimchi was generally white/clear/simple, like dongchimi of today.
The point is that kimchi in 12th century Korea would not have been spicy, also uncertain whether cucumbers were pickled at all back then.
In the book, Tree-Ear receives his meals in a dried gourd shell, which for millennia is what commoners in Korea have used for bowls. My grandparents had actual dried gourd shells in common use around the house; plastic replicas of gourd shells are still used, though not really as food bowls, more of a utility scoop.
The modern equivalent might be the tin pot: cheap, indestructible, versatile, often used to cook ramyeon and other quick soup meals.
I hadn’t used my old tin pot to cook anything in years (see most recently 3.218 Neoguri Ramyeon with Bean Sprouts & Egg) – it sits these days as an ornament on the bookshelf with my cookbooks; in Manila, our helper used it to keep spare change – so I gave it a thorough scrubbing before bringing it into service here.
Truly, the felicitous combination made for a very austere meal. As a homeless orphan living under a bridge, I should be grateful.
(For more details re food, see WHAT)
(For more details re venue, see WHERE IN KOREA)