In post-war Korea during the 1960s and 70s, everything was scarce, even gim. Although it had always been a popular side dish, during this period gim was a luxury that only the rich could afford.
The poor laver production techniques of the time, which produced only small quantities of gim, and the extremely low national income combined to make seaweed a valuable commodity.
Looking at data from 1973, a bundle of 100 sheets of dried seaweed, or tot, cost 550 won (50 cents). This was approximately one percent of the average monthly income of 54,000 won for a working person in Seoul.
My family, an average middle class family during those times, was no exception. We had gim very occasionally on the table, usually for special events, and when we did have it, my siblings and I were allowed only one piece of gim per person per meal. Nevertheless, we would always try to sneak an extra piece of gim or two under the table to indulge ourselves.
My grandmother, who came from a rich family, sometimes came to our house with gim bugak, or fried gim, which is coated with sesame seeds, red pepper flakes and glutinous rice and then fried. Because gim bugak requires lots of layers of gim, it was extremely rare during those times, but my grandmother would bring it over when she could and I loved the dish.
Now that Korea has become an affluent country, people can eat gim and gim bugak whenever they want. Yet I still can’t help but miss those times when I longed for gim and the taste of the gim bugak that my grandmother brought us.
Joo Young-wook is the CEO of Macromill Korea, an online market research company.
By Joo Young-wook Contributing writer