I love my parents for being able to find joy and peace even in something as sad as death.
They returned from my grandfather’s funeral in Korea last Friday, fatigued from double jet-lag but thankful for all the silver linings. Like all families, my mother’s family has their fair share of dramas and feuds. But since my grandfather passed away, it was like a clear stream washed away the negative history and wounds.
For the first time in more than a decade, the whole family on my mother’s side (minus my brother and I) gathered together under one roof. My parents treated them to lunch—at Cheonju’s best Korean-Chinese restaurant for jja jang myun and Koreanized sweet and sour pork—and everyone cast their personal conflicts aside and dined and chatted jovially.
I don’t know if this united harmony will last, but I felt a powerful happiness and comfort stirring in my heart when I heard this news from my mother. I think there’s something encouraging and beautiful about the fact that even in death, God allowed my grandfather to effect a positive change in his loved ones.
Anyway, hearing about my relatives made me miss them a lot. It feels like forever since I last saw my aunts and uncles and cousins. But mostly it makes me miss my grandmother like crazy.
My grandmother’s all alone now, and from what I heard from my mother, she’s still in shock. She walks about in a daze, and she even said everything still feels like a nasty dream to her.
I’m a bit worried about her, but the silver lining yet again is that my relatives are taking better care of her now. And as for me, she’s in my prayers more than before.
My memory of my maternal grandmother is a sweet and savory one. I remember that every time I went back to Korea, she would make a list of all the things I like to eat: noodles, bread, potato tempura, glutinous rice cakes—obviously all extremely carby foods. She was an extremely good cook, and whenever my mom is stumped about a dish she wants to make, she’d call my grandmother for culinary advice.
Well, let me share with you a recipe for my mother’s side dish which she adapted from my grandmother’s. While my parents were visiting me in Los Angeles, my mom demonstrated how to cook it for me.
Myulchee bokkeum (Stir-fried Dried Anchovies)
- aroma-free oil like canola oil
- 3 cloves garlic, diced thinly
- several handfuls of dried anchovies
- a glug of rice wine
- a glug of soy sauce
- some kind of sticky sweetener, like corn syrup or honey
- handful of walnuts (or peanuts)
- drizzle of sesame oil
- sprinkle of black sesame seeds
Heat up oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir-fry garlic until fragrant. Then dump in some dried anchovies.
In case you don’t know what dried anchovies are, here’s a picture of the empty package:
Oh oops. I just realized it’s written in Korean. Of course. But you can find it in every Korean supermarket; just ask someone to direct you to dried anchovies used for stir-fried dishes.
Korean dried anchovies are very different from the Italian oil-packed ones. It’s small and has to be cooked before you can consume it. Dried anchovies are very common, actually, in many Asian countries.
Anyway, after you stir-fried the dried anchovies with the garlic for a few minutes until semi-toasted, it’s time to flavor them. So you pour in a bit of rice wine:
Don’t need to measure; it really depends on how pungent your anchovies are. The rice wine itself doesn’t impart much flavor; it’s really to mask the anchovy odor and make it more palatable.
To season this dish, you add just a little bit of soy sauce:
Again, this is subjective. It depends on how salty the anchovies you bought are, and how bland you like your food to be (though even if you don’t use any soy sauce, this dish will not ever be bland).
Stir-fry for a bit, and then drizzle in the sweetener:
The stuff we used was sweet rice syrup, but honey will work just as well. Don’t squeeze in so much that it’s coated heavily with syrup but you want enough so that the sweetness balances out the saltiness of the anchovies.
Here’s a shot of the syrup and rice wine we used:
Meanwhile, break up the walnuts into small chunks.
Toss them into the mix.
Keep of stirring the anchovies to keep it from burning. You want it to be fully seasoned and sweetened throughout.
At the very end, stir in a tiny drizzle of sesame oil for that last finish of fragrant nuttiness:
And also sprinkle in the sesame seeds. We used black sesame seeds because that’s what we had:
And here’s the finished product:
Remember, it’s not meant to be a main dish. It’s just one of the many different side dishes Koreans enjoy with rice and preferably a bowl of soup.
It’s called myulchee bokkeum (멸치볶음) in Korean, and it’s a dish that my dad absolutely loves, and there’s always a tupperware of this in my parents’ fridge.
It’s really lovely. The salty crispness of the anchovies, the aroma from the garlic and sesame oil, the nuttiness from walnuts and sesame seeds, and the sticky sweetness from the syrup. Try it, try it, try it~
Question of the Day: Anchovies—love it, hate it? What’s your favorite anchovy dish?