Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ox Bone Soup

설렁탕, or Seolleongtang, is ox bone noodle soup.
곰국, or Gomguk, is ox bone soup (also 곰탕).

I had it for breakfast, I didn't like it. It was bland and there were bits of collagen and chewy not-meat floating around. I stuck to my rice and kimchi jjigae and hoped my host mother wouldn't notice. But she did, of course, and I had to tell her it was "별로...". I immediately felt like a jerk, because the first thing she said was that gomguk is expensive. My first thought was, "Great, guilt trip. I'm a bad cultural ambassador." But then I thought, "Well, I'm not obligated to enjoy everything, am I?"

Ox bone soup also exists in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine, so I've had it before, and I daresay I've never liked it much. But it is indeed expensive and requires lots of work to make. The bones must be simmered or slow-cooked for several hours, sometimes an entire day. In fact, I remember getting a whiff of the smell from the kitchen the night before (and no, it was not exactly the most savory aroma).

My co-teachers tell me that gomguk is a good dish for "weak" people in order to make them strong like a bear (gom), particularly because it's a good source of calcium. I decided that I could give it another try.

So a few days later, I had 곰국 again, and you know what? It wasn't as bad this time around. Still not my favorite Korean dish. (In fact, I'm slowly growing tired of Korean cuisine... Hate to admit it, but all I want these days is a good salad...) But it goes to show that first impressions don't always have to dictate the final verdict.