Wednesday Food: Travel to S. Korea Part 1

When Eric and I were at the CIA, I lived in a trailer behind one of the dorms.  Can you believe I was attending the most prestigious culinary school in the country, and living in a trailer park?  It was temporary housing till they built more quarters for the growing number of students banging on the CIA's door!  But truthfully, it was the best place!  I got to live with my best friends, we had our own living room and kitchen, AND our backyard was literally the Hudson River.  It was wonderful!

We were able to have lots of get-togethers with friends and everyone loved taking advantage of our kitchen space.  We had big 4th of July BBQ's, Thanksgiving dinners, birthday parties and an amazing Tamale Night...our trailer was the party spot!  We loved having our friends use our kitchen so we could taste all the good food!

We had a couple of honorary roommates, one which you have met already.  Eric was also one, and our friend Suzy was a regular fixture at our chateau.  It was not uncommon to come home from class to find Suzy and Eric on our couch watching Disney movies.  Suzy graced our kitchen like many other, but she made us a Korean soup we were not familiar with.  Naturally we were very excited!

The soup is called Ddukgook, sometimes also called Korean Rice Cake Soup.  I loved it so much back in the trailer days, that when we moved to San Francisco I would make it for Eric.  We started adding more veggies like mushrooms and bok choy.  The last time, was when Suzy came to visit us from NYC to Portland, ME.  She insisted on making us this famous soup and we were too hungry to argue!

So following in Erica's footsteps, I've asked Suzy to join us for an interview.  I wanted her to give us some stories about this dish, Korean cooking and talk with us about her recent trip to South Korea.  So without further ado...Welcome Suzan Alday!

Let our audience know about your background, and when did you get involved in cooking?

I was born in Pittsburgh, PA to South Korean parents who immigrated around 1981.  I got the idea of becoming a chef when I was 15, and my mom told me to get a job in a restaurant as a dishwasher to see if I would still like it.  I think she thought I would change my mind, but it just made my feelings about cooking much stronger!

Suzy with her parents and sister Liz
 So after CIA, where has cooking taken you?

I moved to New York City with my then boyfriend Ryan (who is also a CIA grad), and worked in Japanese restaurants for a few years.  I felt like I didn't learn enough about Japanese cuisine while I was at culinary school, so it was just to learn as much as I could.  Eventually we got married, and my pursuit for a job was geared more towards financial security.  We recently moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where I currently work at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel*, transferring from the New York location.

 *Suzy actually has the same job that Eric had in San Francisco!

Suzy and her husband Ryan in Korea
What are some of the basics or staple ingredients of Korean cooking?
Soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, fermented bean paste, spicy pepper flakes, a powder soup base called "dashida", and spicy chili paste.

What are some of your favorite foods to make at home?
I can eat rice, noodles, and pasta at any hour of the day, no matter what.  If I'm feeling lazy, I like to make something like pasta with truffle oil, lots of cracked black pepper, shaved parmesan, and a raw egg yolk.  Otherwise I like to make fried rice, because I can get all my food groups in one bowl!

You recently traveled to South Korea with your parents, sister, Liz and husband Ryan. Tell us about your trip!
Our trip was so eye-opening for me.  I hadn't been to Korea for 18 years, and I definitely didn't appreciate it back then as I did this time around.  Every city has it's own specialty, making each meal completely different from the last.  It was good to reconnect with family I had only met once or twice before, and although I barely knew them, and couldn't even really communicate with them because of the language barrier, there was something so comforting and familiar about being with them.  I was so happy to show Ryan where my family comes from.
Suzy and Liz

The recipe we will be making in Part 2, Ddukgook, does it have any fond memories for you growing up?
Ddukgook is traditionally served at New Year's in Korean homes, so I just think of cold weather and warm, filling, tasty comfort food.  I remember the day I asked my mom to teach me how to make it, because I didn't like having to depend on her to make it for me.  She had to do it over the phone.  But I figured it out.
from Left to Right: Suzy's Mom, Ryan, Suzy and Liz
It's made with rice cakes, which was something I had never had before you first made it for us at the trailer. Can you explain what rice cakes are?
Rice cakes are make of glutinous rice flour, water, and a little salt.  They're rolled into long cylinders, steamed, and then usually sliced on a bias and dried for packaging.  Some people don't like the texture, because they're very soft...kind of like having a big chunk of noodle in your mouth, so I was really happy when my girls in the trailer liked it!

My favorite part about the soup is the rice cakes!  I can see how some might think the texture is weird but if your a noodle loving carbo-phile, like Suzy and myself, you will definitely enjoy this soup! 

Thanks so much to Suzy for participating and sharing her stories and recipe!  I'm so excited to make Ddukgook and taste it again!  Stay tuned to Part 2 for the recipe and method.  See you then!


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