Monday, February 08, 2010

Dear Rushina,

One of the most momentous events in my foodie life was when I had my first spoon of Gochujang, a staple Korean condiment. It is a pungent paste of red chillies, rice powder and soyabean which is fermented in earthen pots, usually in the backyard of Korean homes.

Having grown up in an international boarding school which also just happened to be full of ravenous foodies like myself, imbibing food habits and knowledge from other cultures was a regular and eagerly awaited pastime. One hilarious memory that comes to mind is a midnight shouting match between the 6th grade girls in the dorm. The subject of debate – Potatoes or Rice! It was thankfully brief as the Russian contingent shouting ‘Potatoes’ was quickly drowned out by a larger mixed group shouting ‘Rice’.

The disgust metted out when someone found out that Nagas eat dogs was somehow easier to bear when a Korean friend volunteered the information that they do too. And my supply of smoked meat proved to be more valuable than money as I could trade it for Hershey’s kisses, gummy bears, Russian salami, edam cheese (I liked the red wax covering more than the cheese), bhutanese chili powder, nori, shin ramyun and yes, Gochujang.

My obsessive relationship with this utterly savoury dark maroon paste continued after school. The occasional meal at the home of Korean friends helped me decide that my favourite Korean dish by far is bibimbab. A wholesome meal of glutinous rice served in a thick earthen bowl, with an assortment of sautéed, pickled and seasoned vegetables, topped with an egg, sunny side up. The key condiment that integrates all these ingredients into a phenomenal treat is Gochujang, usually served in a small bowl on the side. (I’m literally drooling as I write this)

Still, it wasn’t easily available, not unless you had Korean friends who could supply (which I had for the most part) or the store in INA market, Delhi had some. So imagine my delight when I walked into the Godrej Nature’s Basket early last year and saw boxes of gochujang stacked on the shelves. Suffice to say that I’ve gone crazy since.

I gifted my friend Divya gochujang as a housewarming gift…promising here that it would make anything she made taste complex and exotic. I’ve added the paste to salad dressing, put a spoonful into hot hostel dal, eaten it as chutney for the samosa from the train station, added it to maggi from the neighbourhood tapir (tea stall). I’ve put it in my fried rice, eaten it alone while reading and finally used it to cook chicken, pork, beef and mutton.

My most recent preparation was chicken curry in which I first marinated the chicken in 2 tablespoons of gochujang. When it was almost cooked, I added carrots and the flat green beans you introduced me to on our trip to the market off grant road station.

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