If you move far from the things that are familiar to you, learning to adapt is essential for your survival. When I moved to Seoul 4 years ago, I found myself drowning in a sea of unfamiliarity. The language, culture, courtesies, smells, sounds and sense of personal space all amounted to a major sensory overload. Communication was difficult and mistakes were made often with hilarious results. I remember once feeling overwhelmed by a chatty taxi driver who assumed that I was able to speak Korean because I said “hello” properly. I tried to say “I don’t know” (mo-lie-yo) in response to his words, but ended up saying “How much does it cost?” (ol-my-yo) which of course confused him and prompted him to ask more questions. Another time, I’m pretty sure I told a nice ajumma on the subway who tried to be polite and talk to me that I hate Korea, when I meant to say I don’t know Korean well. I wondered why our conversation fizzled after that.
Food was another interesting matter. Cooking and eating traditions are revered and followed with little deviation. These traditions have worked for a millennium or two, so they must be good. Too good to change. As an outsider, I was completely unaware of what these rules were and ruined many a meal in the eyes of the ladies who served me. Having been accustomed to sushi, I wanted to dip my kimbap in soy sauce. This caused a serious stir in the kitchen as no one could imagine why I would ever want to do such a thing. Did I know that the whole point to eating bibimbop was that it must be mixed thoroughly before eating? Apparently not. Once I’d turned some mushrooms over on the barbeque during a galbi meal, thus spilling all of the water they had collected. All of the Koreans at my table gasped in disappointed embarrassment. It seemed I’d rendered them useless.
When I first arrived, I’d had very limited exposure to kimchi. I found it overwhelming and somewhat offensive to the senses. But, as it is one of the main sources of great pride in Korea, I plugged my nose and tossed it down. I now can’t imagine going more than a few days without eating some.
Mukeungi is kimchi’s lesser-known elderly cousin. Where kimchi is usually fermented for 1 to 4 months, mukeungi has gone through an extra long fermentation process, usually about a year (!). It is ripe with flavour and smell. It is excellent for using in stews, soups and mixes gloriously with eggs.
Mukeunji Kimchi Frittata with Lemongrass and Sour Cream
- 12 eggs beaten
- 2 cups mukeunji kimchi, chopped
- 2-3 king oyster mushrooms, sliced and chopped
- 1 large onion
- 4 tbsp sour cream
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp lemongrass (preferably fresh), finely chopped
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp black sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp butter
Heat a pan on medium high heat on your stove top, melt ½ of the butter. Add garlic, onion and lemongrass and cook for 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Stir frequently.
Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to release their water (about 4-5 minutes). Add the mukeunji kimchi, including any juice, to the pan. Turn heat to medium and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/gas mark 6.
Spread the remaining butter on the bottom of an 8 inch circular baking pan and transfer the kimchi mixture. Pour in the beaten eggs and add salt, and sour cream. Gently mix with a fork.
Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes. To check if it is finished, insert a pick or fork into the center. If it comes out clean, it is finished. Remove from heat.
Garnish with black sesame seeds.
This has me scampering to the nearest Korean place here in Doha to purloin some kimchi!
Excellent! If you try it, let me know how it turns out!
This sounds AMAZING. I want to try this so badly. Have you tried to make your own Mukeungi? A really fabulous bakery in my town has started making sourdough croissants stuffed with kimchi and blue cheese. It’s one of the most divine pastries I’ve ever consumed.
Thanks! I haven’t tried making my own mukeungi. It’s 100% a spacial issue for me. My apartment is hard enough to cook in much less store a pot of stinky, rotting brassica. Kimchi and blue cheese on sourdough sounds like a taste explosion. Want now.