I went to MOMA today to see one of the only two screenings of the new movie by acclaimed Korean director So Yong Kim, Treeless Mountain. There was something beautiful and poetic about the way the movie was filmed (check out the screen capture above), and although the movie did have subtitles, you almost feel like it doesn’t need them. The two young stars aren’t trained actors, and I think that is key to the movie’s success. That being said, it’s probably not a movie for everyone. If you’re interested in quasi-bleak stories of abandonment, then this is your cup of tea. (The fact that I finally saw the astounding and similarly-themed Japanese film Nobody Knows on DVD just a couple of days earlier made this an unusual movie weekend for me.) Anyway, what’s the point? I came out of the movie with Korean food on my mind — I know, not exactly shocking for me. Jen and I headed over to H-Mart on 32nd Street and stocked up on a few ingredients.
I’d had some pork belly in my freezer for a while, so I quickly thawed it out and made a marinade based on a different recipe in a favorite cookbook, Authentic Recipes from Korea. It’s mostly garlic, soy sauce, honey, rice wine, pepper, sesame oil, and scallions. I let it sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes while I got the rice cooker going and worked on everything else.
This tofu dish (yangnyeumjang sundubu) has become a household favorite for me. The sauce is a little like that pork marinade — soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ground red pepper, sesame seeds, scallions — although I admit I make it a little differently every time now. Improvising is half the fun. Then I let that sit for about 30 minutes.
Then came the Korean spicy rice cakes (dukbokgi, although I’ve seen a dozen different phonetic spellings). The rice cakes themselves are bought refrigerated or frozen. You really just have to make the sauce and decide if you want to serve it with noodles, hard-boiled eggs, fish cakes, etc. I tried making this dish for the first time just the other day, and it was a bit improvised. This time I did a little research on the web and came up with something that made more sense. I started with a few cups of water, and then I added the hot pepper paste, ground red pepper, some soy sauce, scallions, and garlic. Now I understand the key to success is to add the rice cakes after the sauce is mixed together and to cook it long enough so the starch released by the cakes serves to thicken the sauce. If I didn’t watch it happen myself, I’m not sure I would have believed it.
And there you have it, with ramen noodles and hard-boiled eggs. It was pretty much perfect, although I might make it a bit spicier next time. The best part is that I have leftovers for tomorrow, and I still have half a pound of rice cakes left to make this again in a couple of days.