Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dark Day

Sunday was bright and humid here, but when I say that Dan and I had a "dark day," I mean it literally. A few days ago, we were at my favorite brownie spot, Gourmet in Samcheondong, when Dan spied packages of squid ink pasta tucked in the bottom row of a display case. Since discovering a gorgeous ink tagiolini dish coated in creamy pink sauce a few years back at my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, ink has become something I've sought out often, usually in the form of ink pastas or sauces and occasionally in risottos. There's something distinctly earthy and sharp about the flavor that I love, but I'd never tried making an ink dish myself, so I picked up the noodles and a can of plum tomatoes and then started dreaming of how I'd marry the two.

On the day I planned on making the squid ink pasta for dinner, Dan decided he had a lunchtime hankering for ja jang myeon, or noodles in black sauce, and we realized we had ourselves a theme day. Ja jang myeon is a Korean adaptation of a Chinese dish (word is that the Korean version has now entered China as a foreign food), and it's become so synonymous with Chinese food here that instead of asking "Do you want to go for Chinese?" my co-workers always ask "Do you want to go for ja jang?"(even though half of them order a different dish once we're at the Chinese restaurant).

Dan and I had ours at Yang Ja Gang Ja Jang Myeon, a place where the heavy slap of handmade noodles against a hard countertop can occasionally be startling. The noodle man, dressed all in white, stands at a front window holding long strands between outstretched arms. The strands attenuate and multiply with each thwack until they become the incredibly fresh, supple ja jang noodles set in front of patrons. The noodles arrive smothered in a black sauce made from fermented bean paste that is slightly salty and very comforting. I also love the vegetables in the ja jang at Yang Ja Gang: soft onions that melt on your tongue and savory potatoes and carrots with a delicately yielding firmness. At 5,000 won, or about four dollars, it's no wonder the place is always packed.

In between lunch and dinner, I snacked on a dark cherry pastry from Gourmet while we watched the Korean film "Mother." The film was--you guessed it--quite dark. Dan and I were both disappointed by it, actually, especially because I'd heard raves and even read a review that had compared it to a Hitchcock film, but I'll save those thoughts for my movie blog. (There is no movie blog.)

For dinner, I prepared a Fra Diavolo sauce for the ink noodles, which is a favorite of mine because it's simple, delicious, and spicy. I just sauteed some garlic, added the can of stewed tomatoes, put in a few heaping spoonfuls of gochu garu (Korean pepper powder), and let everything simmer for about thirty minutes. During the last few minutes, I threw in some fresh shrimp and tossed it with the al dente ink noodles and a bit of leftover pasta water. I dug in with great anticipation, only to discover that, despite the powerful black appearance of the noodles, I couldn't taste the ink at all. Much to my disappointment, instead it tasted like a plain ol' (albeit tasty) pasta dish. Dan had noticed that they sell jars of actual ink at Gourmet, so I think that's my next step. I haven't decided yet whether to incorporate it into a handmade pasta or make a sauce out of it. Either way, expect future pictures of me looking like a Bic pen has exploded all over my hands and mouth.

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