Yookgaejang! Photo Courtesy of Donna Knoesen
When I first moved to South Korea, I had no idea what to eat. Food being something I’m intensely passionate about, it was a horrifying discovery. I would wander the streets, peering into restaurant windows, trying to figure out what on earth I could eat without giving away the fact that I knew nothing at all about Korean food. Many restaurants didn’t offer English translations on their menus (understandably so), and although I tried finding restaurants that had pictures, the food remained aloof and mysterious.
After a couple hungry days where I was eating nothing but dumplings (mandu) from a street vendor, I eventually went into a restaurant, pleaded ignorance as best I could (using hand gestures, mostly, as my Korean was nonexistent at this point), and a kindly old woman took pity on me and served me a delicious soup called yookgaejang (you-kay-jong). A friend of mine described it as tasting similar to Campbell’s vegetable beef, which is true, but yookgaejang is spicier and much more delicious (I’m sorry, Campbell’s, your vegetable with alphabet letters is still my favorite). Yookgaejang is usually served in a stone bowl, which keeps the soup boiling ferociously up to 10 minutes into your meal. The soup also comes with a bowl of plain white rice on the side, to cut the spiciness a bit. Some Korean people dump the whole bowl of rice into their soup, turning it into a sort of stew.
Described by Korean people as extremely healthy (and good for dieting), yookgaejang is fairly easy to prepare, keeps well, and it’s just mouth-wateringly delicious. It’s spicy, though! The first time I ate it, I broke into a full face sweat. Who knew soup could make you sweat from your eyeballs? Keep a tissue handy.
1 ½ lb flank steak
½ lb bean sprouts
8 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
2 scallions, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1. Cook the steak in the beef broth for 2 hours on low heat. Skim the fat out as you go. The broth should simmer until it’s been reduced to half. Remove the beef from the broth and wait for it to cool down, and then shred. Save the broth.
2. In a small pan, combine garlic, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes over low heat.
3. Soak the beef in the sauce for 5 minutes.
4. Mix the leftover beef broth with the beef, sprouts, salt, and scallions, and bring to a boil. Serve hot.