Cycle 12 – Item 72
18 (Thu) March 2021
A Delicate Mingling of Chicken, Minari, and Garlic
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (40) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, 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. The 100th Medal was recently announced: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller – a Korean-themed 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, give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
The Tale of Despereaux (2004) by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. The book is about Despereaux, a mouse who engages on a quest into the dungeons to rescue the Princess Pea from the clutches of rat Roscuro and his would-be henchgirl Miggery Sow.
Gor, I adored this book. As befitting a fairytale, the characters are exaggerated to the point of absurdity and yet so exquisitely drawn that they feel alive, irresistibly lovable, even the despicable ones. Though the story itself is short and simple, it’s carved into 3 blocks, each focusing on one of the primary characters like an independent short tale, told out of chronological order, all converging in a final 4th block that ties the tales together. As I had written about Flora & Ulysses, another book by Kate DiCamillo to win the Newbery Medal, The Tale of Despereaux is an eternal American classic, what all Newbery winners should strive to be.
Roscuro, a rat, comes out of the shadows to see the light, both literally and figuratively, but accidentally falls into the queen’s soup.
[paraphrased in part]
The queen loved soup. She loved soup more than anything in the world except for the Princess Pea and the king. And because the queen loved it, soup was served in the castle for every banquet, every lunch, and every dinner.
And what soup it was! Cook’s love and admiration for the queen and her palate moved the broth that she concocted from the level of mere food to a high art.
On this particular day, for this particular banquet, Cook had outdone herself. The soup was a masterwork, a delicate mingling of chicken, watercress, and garlic. Roscuro, as he surfaced from the bottom of the queen’s capacious bowl, could not help taking a few appreciate sips.
“Lovely,” he said, distracted for a moment from the misery of his existence, “delightful.”
The queen was really a simple soul and always, her whole life, had done nothing except state the overly obvious.
She died as she lived.
“There is a rat in my soup” were the last words she uttered. She clutched her chest and fell over backward.
The queen is scared her to death, literally, thus forcing Roscuro to flee back into the darkness and pursue a bitter path of villainy. Poor guy.
In Korean, watercress (aka Nasurtium officinale) is mul naengi (물냉이) – maybe. Another vegetable that may or may not have exact counterparts across languages/regions. Images on the internet seem wildly different, even among images for watercress, and certainly in comparison to images for mul naengi. My only personal experience with watercress was in the Philippines (see for example 11.064 Stir-Fried Watercress and Shimeji Mushrooms), which, now that I think about it, may have been a different vegetable (the Korean store sold it as “watercress,” but who knows?).
When I asked W to get mul naengi from the market, she came back with minari (미나리) (aka Oenanthe javanica), which may or may not be the same vegetable as water celery or water dropwort. She said that they didn’t have mul naengi, but the guy told her that minari is pretty much the same thing.
I don’t know. In any case, it’s a leafy weed that tastes kinda bitter. Close enough.
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)