In England, when I was growing up, Sundays felt like a special occasion because our family used to eat a traditional Sunday lunch. It’s a lot of effort though to prepare the roast meat – beef, pork, lamb, or chicken – roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and gravy. And you can’t have Sunday dinner without apple pie and custard, treacle pudding, or some other calorific but tasty dessert. As far as I know there is no tradition for eating a particular meal on Sundays in Korea. So after a leisurely start to the day and peering sadly into an empty fridge, we decided to go to a cheonggukjang restaurant for our Korean Sunday lunch.
The restaurant was busy with some smartly dressed folk (they’d probably been to church), a few customers in hiking gear (they’d probably been up the local mountain) some families with young children, and us. The restaurant has no menu as there is only one dish to choose from – 청국장 cheonggukjang soybean soup with rice and side dishes. OK. We’ll have that then…
top left: 누룽지 nurungji – First we were served this warm drink. It’s made by adding hot water to the layer of crispy rice that gets stuck to the bottom of the rice pot after the rice has been cooked. Salt or sugar is not added so I’d describe the taste as quite soothingly mild smoky popcorn
top right: 청국장 cheonggukjang – fermented soybean soup. There is nothing mild or bland about this feisty soup. It has a very pungent smell so it’s not for the faint-hearted. In fact the smell of cheonggukjang permeates throughout its restaurants and lingers on its customers so much so that it features in an advert on TV advertising spray fabric freshener: two office workers come back from lunch and their colleague looks up and says ‘Oh! cheonggukjang for lunch?‘ The two ladies then scuttle off embarrassed that their clothes smell. Cheonggukjang is similar to 된장 doenjang fermented soybean paste but not as salty, a lot smellier, and it has whole soybeans in it. It is cooked with tofu, courgettes, leek and (of course) chillies. Side dishes in this picture are fried pork and youlmu kimchi – a summer kimchi made with radish leaves. Read more about kimchi here.
bottom left: There are LOADS of vegetables in this meal. It comes with a huge bowl of lettuce, cucumber and bean sprouts. Add the rice and mix it all up like bibimbap adding some kim (dried seaweed) and sesame oil. Then the cheonggukjang can be eaten from a separate bowl or ladled on top of the rice and eaten together with the rice.
bottom right: 깻잎전 kennipjon sesame leaf pancake side dish with a soy sauce and vinegar dip.
This is a lot of food and very filling – (especially with a bottle of makkoli) It reminded me of how I used to feel after Sunday dinner back home – stuffed! So all that was left to do was go home for a rest and look for our fabric freshener spray ….