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Monday, December 15, 2008

Starvation soup

During the 40-year Japanese occupation of Korea, many Koreans suffered extreme poverty and famine. To combat starvation, a few cheap and easy meals were perfected. Rice and meat shortages meant that these ingredients, staples in the Korean diet, were unavailable and new food combinations had to be invented.

Enter "starvation soup" -- phonetically, in Korean, deul-ggae-soo-je-bi. This simple soup, made from ground sesame-like seeds, thick noodles and some sort of shellfish that no one knew the English name for, was a hot and filling meal during the lean years of occupation.

It's impossible to get this dish outside of Korea (the seeds only grow here and are too expensive and rare to export), and very few places even serve it as many old Koreans refuse to eat this and be reminded of the occupation, so it's definitely a special treat when you're able to get it.

On her last Sunday in Korea, Karen wanted one last taste of this soup before heading back to the US for two months. So we trekked to lovely Samcheong-dong for a taste of the past.

The soup is actually delicious, perfect for a bitter winter day. A huge pot arrived at the table to be eaten communally and we dug in with our spoons and chopsticks. Definitely worth the trip, if you can find it.

It's been interesting learning more about Korean history and how so much of the past, especially the Japanese occupation, is still on the forefront of people's minds. There is so still so much animosity between the two countries.

You know it's a strong rivalry when, while telling your students not to insult each other, you have include not calling each other Japanese.

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