Tag Archives: Asian food

My Favorite Korean Food: Dwen-Jang-Jigae

Most of my friends and colleagues know that my favorite Korean food is a salty and spicy stew called Dwen-Jang-Jigae (된장찌개). Made from peppers and fermented soy bean paste (dwen-jang), it can range anywhere from mildly spicy to ass-kicking hot. It’s hearty, healthy, full of vegetables and absolutely delicious.

Dwen Jang Stew

This image was taken from another blog. See below for a link to her recipe.

I eat this amazing stew every chance I get – often making a meal of it at restaurants. This is a bit odd as it is generally served as a shared side dish, but I’m willing to be a bit unconventional because it is both delicious and cheap. A bowl of soup with a cup of rice can range from 2,000-5,000 won ($2-5).

I wanted to make this stew for a long time, but it always seemed like an intimidating endeavor. Some Korean coworkers told me that it is difficult to make. Despite this warning, I finally decided to try my hand at making a pot of Dwen-Jang-Jigae last weekend.

I was surprised to find that it was incredibly easy to make. Not only was it not difficult, but I learned that the recipe is quite flexible. It’s OK to add an ingredient, adjust the thickness of the stew or experiment in other ways. Most Korean mothers who make this stew tend to cook by feel rather than strictly adhering to a recipe.

Let’s get started:

The first step is to gather the ingredients. I went to the street market near my apartment, but most of these ingredients can be found at any grocery store. The only thing that might require an Asian grocery is the Dwen-Jang.


  • Dwen-Jang – 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons
    *Any Asian/Korean grocer will have Dwen-Jang. Also available online.
  • Dubu – One small package, cut into squares.
    *Most Americans know this as Tofu. Same stuff.
  • Dried AnchoviesAbout 1/4 cup
    *You can replace these with 2 cups of anchovy broth.
  • Green Pepper – 1 or 2, sliced thin
    *The best pepper for this is called Go-Chu (고추)
  • Green Onion1 or 2, sliced
  • White Onion1 diced in thick pieces
  • Zucchini1/2, sliced

The first step is to boil the anchovies. I used four cups of water and a handful of dried anchovies – about 1/4 cup. Simply place the anchovies in the water and bring it to a boil for 8-10 minutes. Feel free to adjust the amount of water and number of  anchovies.

Sardines boiling

While the anchovies are boiling, cut the vegetables and dubu. This is pretty simple. Most stews have thick-cut onions and thin slices of zucchini, but it’s OK to cut them however you like. It’s also OK to add other vegetables or mushrooms.

Vegetables cut up

Caution: If you use gochu (고추) peppers, don’t eat them raw, even if your roommate’s girlfriend dares you to. You might end up crying in front of everyone (or so I’ve heard)…

When the anchovy broth is complete, remove the anchovies from the water with a strainer. Add two or three heaping tablespoons of dwen-jang to the water and stir it in. Reapply heat and allow it to return to a boil.

Dwen Jang spoon

As the water is returning to a boil, add the peppers and the green onions to the pot. Allow these ingredients to boil for five minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (white onion, zucchini and dubu). Let the stew boil for 10-15 more minutes before serving. This soup is great with rice. I like to mix about a half cup of rice right into my stew bowl before eating.

Dwen Jang boiling

As I mentioned before, there are plenty of variations to this recipe. You really can’t go wrong as long as you include the basic ingredients (dwen-jang, anchovy broth and gochu). I suggest that you check out this post for another version of the same recipe. The author, Hyosun Ro, is a Korean-American who shares Korean recipes on her blog, Korean Bapsang. Thanks to the addition of meat and dry pepper flakes, I think her recipe will be even more flavorful than mine!

Until next time.


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Dirty Kimbap

On my way home from school yesterday, I decided to take a walk through the old neighborhood and visit the kimbap restaurant that I frequented last year. It’s called Kimbap Heaven (김밥천국). I went there every morning and bought the same thing: tuna kimbap. The ajumma (middle-aged woman – pictured below) who worked the morning shift got to know me and even grew to like me over several months. But our relationship wasn’t always so friendly – my first time in the restaurant didn’t go well. This is the story of my first time in a kimbap restaurant:

Screenshot_2013-03-22-12-45-23It took me a week to work up the nerve to go into the restaurant. In three months I had never seen a foreigner inside, and I was certain that none of the employees spoke a word of English. The fact that most of the employees were in their 40’s or 50’s meant that they were not likely to be patient as I stumbled painfully through ordering in Korean. After I chickened out three times, I finally walked in and sat down.

I spent so much time worrying that I was surprised by the fact that nobody seemed to notice me when I walked in. None of the usual awkward stares and not-so-quiet whispers (look, a foreigner!). Even the employees didn’t give me a second look, which was awkward; they usually get as far away as possible for fear that I might attack them with my English.

I sat patiently as the woman delivered food to other customers. I used that time to practice ordering in my head. I knew that a simple sentence could become a tongue-twister in an instant if I wasn’t prepared.

Finally, the woman walked over and asked for my order:

Woman: 뭐 드릴카요? (What can I get you?)
Me: 잠지 김밥 하나 주세요. (Tuna kimbap, please.)
The woman looked at me like I had three ears.
Woman: ……….뭐??? (………what???)
Me: 잠지…김밥…하나…주세요. (Tuna…..kimbap…..please.)
Woman: 뭐 말했어?!?!?!? (What did you say?!?!?!?!?)
At this point, I was getting pissed. I pointed at the tuna as I spoke.
Me: 잠지…김밥…주세요!!! (Tuna…..kimbap…..please!!!)

I guess that pointing really helped, because she finally seemed to understand. But she seemed angry, even when I was leaving. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, other than being a foreigner.

I told my Korean friend Leon about my experience the next day. I tried my best to order in Korean, but the woman was not impressed. I used respectful Korean and tried to speak clearly and slowly. For some reason, she was still rude. He asked me what I said to her. When I repeated my order, he started laughing hysterically.

“Taft, you should probably just order the tuna kimbap next time. Most places around here don’t serve vagina kimbap.” Oops…

The difference is subtle: 참치 (cham-chi) is tuna – 잠지 (jahm-ji) is vagina. Hence the confusion. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t go back in for a week. When I finally returned, I emphasized the CH sound.

I’ve never made that mistake again. But don’t worry – I have made plenty of others.

Until next time.


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The Grocery Store

I made my second trip to the grocery store on my street Sunday night.  It’s a small neighborhood store that draws customers from about a two-block area.  I thought you might like to see some pictures.  There wasn’t anything crazy, but there were several interesting things.

I started out in the snack aisle.  There were quite a few interesting snack products, but two jumped out at me.

This bag caught my eye because the picture on the front looks like a worm lassoing a giant turd. Also, these look like chocolate Cheetos. That's just gross.

I bought a bag of french fry things last week, and they were good. I decided to give these a shot as well. They were terrible. They smelled like fish gone bad.

Beside the snack isle there was a small display with a facial product that I have never seen before.

Facial Yogurt? Really?

After the Facial Yogurt, I walked over to the dairy section, where there was a surprisingly large selection of yogurt made for eating (not rubbing on your face).  At the time, I didn’t know what it was, so I didn’t take any pictures.  It wasn’t until last night that I found out the little bottles of liquid next to the milk were actually liquid yogurt.  They call it “fridge yogurt”.  Which begs the question, where do they store regular (solid) yogurt?

There was a huge selection of milk, too.  The Koreans are much more adventurous with dairy products than Americans.  They didn’t limit themselves to skim, 1%, 2%, and whole.  There were a lot of different flavors, some of which didn’t seem particularly appetizing when combined with milk.

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My last stop was the fruit section.  I was surprised by how different the prices were compared to fruits in the US.  Grapes were cheaper than at home, but the apples were outrageously expensive.  They had two-packs, four-packs, and six-packs of apples.  They weren’t available in bulk, but that’s OK, because I doubt anyone could afford more than a few.

Six apples cost 7,200won, which is roughly equivalent to $7.

I ended up spending less than $25 buying enough groceries to last through the rest of the week.  I eat out quite a bit here, because it’s so cheap, but it’s nice to know that I can afford most foods even when the budget gets tight.

Until next time,


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