Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Great Korean Loach

My travels having come to an end, and my career pursuits having resumed their course in Seoul, South Korea, I have decided to transform this travel blog somewhat. For the time being, new postings will focus on Korean foods, traditional restaurants, and travel in Korea. 

As the first of the Korean features, I would like to focus on a subject of great mystification to foreign visitors and residents: THE KOREAN LOACH. Most important in this matter is not to confuse 'loach' with 'roach.' A loach is a small fish-like creature that lives in the muddy waters of rice paddies. It is not a slug. Nor is it an eel, really. I suppose that only a biologist could settle the question of exactly what type of creature a loach is.

But the most important consideration in the subject of loaches is that they taste delicious. Loaches are commonly served as chu-ah-tang in Korea. Another - more colloquial - name for this soup is mi-kuh-ruh-ji-tang ('mi-kuh-ruh-ji' means 'slippery'!). 

This is one of the excellent chu-ah-tang restaurants in the heart of Seoul: Nam-won Chu-ah-Tang. (Nam-won is a small provincial city.) A bowl of loach soup goes for 7,000 won here, which is typical. (Conversion Rate: around $6 US).

In the olden days, the loaches were dished up whole, but the present-day Korean has become a bit more squeemish, and the loaches are now blended and pureed. Loaches are also served deep-fried, or in dumplings.

The ingredient presentation outside of Namwon Chu-ah-tang.

Loaches in an aquarium.

Portrait of a loach. 
Incidentally, I have heard that a village cure for the hiccups used to be to force the hiccuping child to swallow a live loach. YIKES!

No comments: