12.094 Chuno (Gamja Jeon)


9 (Fri) April 2021

Chuno (Gamja Jeon)


by me

at home

-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-

with W and IZ

Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (43) (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.  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 (i.e., give us this day our daily bread).  The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.

Puffin Books makes the worst covers (see also 12.065 Beef Goulash).

Secret of the Andes (1953) by Ann Nolan Clark.  The book is about Cusi, a young boy who is raised alone as an orphan high in the Andes Mountains by his mysterious caretaker, until he is sent on a mission into the valley to learn the secrets of his ancient ancestors and his place among them.

The book was okay.  As a coming-of-age story, with elements of Peruvian history, Indian culture, and Incan mysticism, it was mildly entertaining, and certainly a departure from many other Newbery books set in Anytown, USA.

As modern reader, however, I found it uncomfortable to accept yet another would-be “exotic” tale written by a white person about brown people.  Even if the author had spent her career teaching, studying, and writing about Indians in the States, Mexico, and South America, including Peru, I’m not convinced that gave her license.  Though in the 1950s, “cultural appropriation” was still decades away.

For Newbery aficionados, Secret of the Andes is notorious for winning the gold medal in 1953, while Charlotte’s Web – arguably the most famous and most beloved book in Newbery history – was relegated to a silver honor award.

Chuño is a Peruvian food product.  Traditionally made in the winter, raw potatoes are exposed to the open air for several days to freeze and dehydrate them, then trampled by foot to squeeze out any remaining water and laid out to dry, allowing for long storage.  The potatoes are ground into flour for use in various applications, such as soup.

[paraphrased in part]

The chuno was made.  Every potato in the sack had been ground into a coarse meal.  Cusi brought an armload of dry dung to feed the flame.  Then he brought a clay pot filled with chuno.  Cusi did not feel sorry because his food was always the same – frozen potatoes and corn, a gruel made of pigweed seed, and sometimes a stew of dried bits of meat.  It was all he had.  He was always a little cold, always a little lonely.  He knew no other way of living.    

I wasn’t about to make actual chuño.

Gamja Jeon (감자전) is a Korean dish.  Raw potatoes are peeled and ground to a pulp – sometimes with onion and/or flour – and fried as a thin pancake in oil, served with seasoned soy sauce.  Popular as an anju, especially with maggeolli.  Often associated with the province of Gangwon (see for example 9.144 Jeongsik), famous for potatoes.

Incidentally, I was reminded of gamja jeon when Number One Swedish Fan GK made it during a recent Korean-Swedish exchange (see 12.063 Kåldolmar).

My first, and last, attempt at gamja jeon turned out as expected.  I’ve never liked the dish, don’t like the texture, which never gets very crispy but stays kinda limp; and though made primarily of potato, it never really seems to taste like potato, just kinda starchy.  W really enjoyed it, so the effort wasn’t a complete loss.

In keeping with the South American theme of the book, I made a quick chimichurri sauce, even if it’s not Peruvian, which made the pancake a bit more interesting, but not enough.

(See also FOODS)

(See also PLACES)

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