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When you want some of your mom’s “Chung Gook Jang”

It’s 5 AM. An old lady’s day starts as she begins preparing side dishes. As the rice is almost cooked, she opens up her restaurant. It’s 6 AM. She now waits for customers to come. Ichon-dong is a place full of famous restaurants ranging from Japanese, Chinese, and even fancy cafes. However, there is also a traditional market hidden between these high-story apartments. In this alley, there are many restaurants tucked away like hidden jewels.

Doobu-chon is a restaurant run by the old lady. This restaurant serves Kimchi Jjigae (kimchi stew), Dweonjang Jjigae (bean past stew), Dongtae Jjigae (frozen Pollack stew), and other dishes that reminds us of our mother’s cooking. Many people thus come and eat at this restaurant including the residents nearby, school teachers, church employees, and others. Along with the main dish, many side dishes are served. It seems like one could finish off their whole bowl of rice with just the side dishes. There is much salt in dweonjang and chunggook-jang (fast-fermented bean paste), so it seems like the side dishes are deliberately made a little bland.

After a week of business trip in the US, I ran to the old lady’s restaurant. I wanted to eat chunggook-jang so much.

I avoided the busy hours, so I was able to get a seat right away. The old lady told me to sit and hurriedly prepared the side dishes for me. For some reason, my chopsticks keep going to Nabak Kimchi (watery kimchi made of sliced radishes) and a cucumber dish.

I can hear the chunggook-jang boil. The old lady says the chunggook-jang is from her sister’s place in Yangpyeong. I can see that the beans are in very good quality. The broth has a deep taste as one can see that the ingredients include young pumpkin, winter mushrooms, green chili, onions, and baby clams.

The tofu in the broth also feels very soft and one can taste its richness. The lady tells me that the tofu is from Gangneung, and she receives her supplies along with eggs and potatoes. There are many types of tofu; however, the one used in this broth is a type that goes especially well with broth. The lady told me that one day she ran out of tofu, so she used a different type to put in her broth; however, the customer who was accustomed to the original type did not even touch the substitute used in the broth. After this incident, she said once the tofu runs out, she closes down the restaurant for that day.

The chunggook-jang that is made in this restaurant is both good for one’s health and soul. In the early summer of last year, I remember coming here with a friend. We were jogging along the river and decided to come here to eat. I remember eating yeolmu kimchi (young radish kimchi) and said repeatedly, “This is so good.” When the old lady heard me, she told us that she would give us some to take home. The meal was only worth 5,000 won, but she gave us so much kimchi. I remember my mom scolding me slightly for doing so.

When the old lady’s husband was alive, the two of them would run the restaurant together, helping each other. However, after he passed away, she had to do everything on her own. Though she can manage the restaurant on her own during morning and dinner hours, during lunch hours she gets help from two helpers.

I finished the chunggook-jang while talking to the old lady. She seems so much happier when she talks about her husband. Though she talks about him all the time, it seems like it’s new to me every time. After we talk, she hurriedly washes the dishes.

There is a table placed in the restaurant for customers to enjoy coffee or tea. She also placed flowers of different colors from pink, purple, red, and yellow in a beer mug. I can’t help but smile as I imagine that these flowers represent a love letter for her late husband.

Chunggook-jang

Chunggook-jang is made by first soaking beans in warm water for about ten to twenty hours. Then the water is discarded, and the paste is kept warm. Bacillus, that is formed during this process supposedly helps prevent cancer and aids in excretion of harmful substances hiding in one’s body. It takes at least a month to ferment dweonjang; however, chunggook-jang only takes two to three days.

Nutritional facts about Maejoo beans

The main ingredient used for making dweonjang is maejoo beans. It is known to have high protein, fat, and antioxidants. It is known to slow down aging and increases stamina due to tocopherol, vitamins, calcium, iron, selenium, and other minerals. It also has lecithin, which burns cholesterol; it is also known to have saponin which absorbs fat and it also prevents constipation. It is told eating dweonjang by fermenting maejoo beans is very good for one’s health.

Where is this place?

Doobu-chon – inside Ichon traditional market; Dongbu Ichon 1dong 301 – 153, Yongsan-gu

02-793-5501

Guide Tip: The tofu, potatoes, and eggs come in from Gangneung, and breakfast is served starting 6AM. The restaurant closes for the day if their tofu runs out during dinner time. Tofu is included in almost all of their food; the tofu is made of Korean beans, thus has a soft texture and rich taste.

By Kim Mi Sook (94’ Miss Korea)
Photo from TVReport DB
Translated by Ye Sul Kwak / Korea.com

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