As I read One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, I noticed that food appears quite frequently throughout the story. In fact, mentions of food occur on 32 out of the 147 pages–that’s 21% of the book. And some pages include multiple dishes.
I’m not familiar with Korean cuisine. I know what kimchi is, and I assume rice plays an important role in Korean cooking, but that’s my base understanding of this culture’s food. I thought I would highlight some of the dishes mentioned in One Hundred Shadows and explain what they are, or at least give you readers a visual aid.
Here we go!
We washed our faces, put on the clothes they gave us, and ate a meal of steamed rice wrapped in blanched mulberry leaves. Night fell as we ate.
In this part of the story, Eungyo and Mujae have just made their way out of the woods and found a nice family that lets the protagonist and her friend sleepover before they catch the bus into the city the next day.
In Korean cooking, when something is wrapped in something else, it’s called ssam. The wrappings themselves can be any leafy green or seaweed, lettuce being the most common. Sue at My Korean Kitchen explains:
Ssambap is wrapped rice in edible leaves or some leafy seaweed. It is known as a healthy diet meal, because lettuce (or cabbage) makes you feel satisfied sooner, hence you don’t need to eat as much. However, the substance that is contained in lettuce, called lactcarium, can make you sleepy after the meal, so we need to watch out for that.
I’m not sure if mulberry leaves are considered an extravagant, common, or in-between ingredient, but I understand they are also commonly pickled. Please let me know if you know more about the role mulberry leaves have in Korean cooking.
And when they rise, they look a lot like the things themselves, since after all, these are shadows we’re talking about, he said, and in the meantime our dosirak box lunches arrived, but Mr. Yeo set his aside, saying he didn’t have an appetite. I ate my Young Master’s Dosirak Box Lunch by myself […]
Mr. Yeo, Eungyo’s boss, shares his understanding and experience of shadows rising, but he is interrupted by lunch.
As the title in the picture above suggests, dosirak are boxed lunches. Inside you’ll find rice, seaweed, vegetables, gochujung (a spicy condiment made of chili, rice, and soy), and egg, among other things depending on what you order.
I wanted to know if dosirak has any association with a particular class. Food blogger Joe McPherson explains the connotations of the dish on his Korean food blog, ZenKimchi:
As Korea became richer and more cosmopolitan, dosiraks were considered the province of poor people and not sophisticated. But now, as with the peanut butter and jelly restaurant, they have been given a more sophisticated interpretation as a whimsical appetizer to have with your meal.
I am still unsure how “Young Master’s” distinguishes Eungyo’s box–it might be in reference to the Marvel comic. If anyone knows what Young Master’s means contextually in South Korea, please get in touch (you can comment below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During my search, I came across the lovely channel sweetandtastyTV, which is a Korean culture & travel video blog channel. They have a video on dosirak served at a popular café in Seoul called Miss Lee Cafe. Please check out their awesome video here!
The cold noodles are really good, he said, and the beef rib soup. I said I’d have the beef rib soup, but when it came I wished I’d thought about the weather and ordered something cold. Mujae looked cool and comfortable as he ate his chilled noodles, whereas I had to keep wiping my forehead to stop the sweat dripping into my soup.
Mujae eats cold noodles twice in the story–once with Eungyo at a restaurant, as is noted in the quote above; and another time he takes Eungyo to the market where they buy ingredients for cold noodle soup, and then cook it in his home.
Maangchi, a Korean chef and food blogger, expresses her love for mul-naengmyeon:
Korean icy cold noodles (naengmyeon: 냉면) are one of my favorite things to make all year ‘round, even in the cold winter. I can’t resist the texture of the chewy and thin noodles, no matter if they are served with cold broth (mul-naengmyeon: 물냉면) or in a spicy sauce (bibim-naengmyeon: 비빔냉면). Especially on hot summer days like these, I really feel my body cools right down after I slurp the cold noodles and drink the leftover cold icy broth. The cold broth is tangy, savory, and a little sweet and the noodles are soft but chewy at the same time.
I urge you to go visit Maangchi’s YouTube channel and watch her video on how to make mul-naengmyeon, as she has a lovely, charming persona and is an extremely knowledgeable Korean cook. Check out her video here.
Eungyo, it’ll be too sharp if you put in so much radish and spring onion.
I like it sharp.
It’ll be too sharp.
Mujae scooped out a spoonful of the mixture from my bowl and poured in some soybean broth. Ice cubes clamoured to the surface, and I added some of the noodles. Mujae and I ate in silence. The ice chilled the noodles so severely that my teeth ached whenever I had to chew.
When we came, he’d disappear off somewhere and come back a little later with steamed blood sausage for us to share. And I’d stand at his side, popping slices of sausage into my mouth and watching the people pass by. I can still see it, as if it were yesterday; him wrapping newspaper around the sausage before he handed it to me, warning that my hands would get greasy […]
Here Mujae tells Eungyo a story about his father who used to sell stoves in the same market slum that the two characters work in now.
Sundae is Korean name for a blood sausage dish, often sold in trucks or stalls as street food. It is typically made of cow or pig intestines, and is stuffed with various ingredients.
The Seoul Guide describes sundae as follows:
The most common preparation involves using pig’s intestines stuffed with dangmyeon (cellophane or potato noodles), barley, and pig’s blood. Variations include stuffing the intestines with sesame leaves (perilla), soybean paste, scallions, rice, kimchi, and sprouts.
YouTuber Lee Lemon has a video blog in which she eats sundae, which I will link here. I don’t think Lee specifies if she’s eating in South Korea in the video, but her bio says she has lived abroad in Korea. Her description of the meal and its side dishes is elaborate and fun!
There are many other mentions of food in One Hundred Shadows, including a fried chicken “with just the right amount of soy sauce” (Hwang 113-114), as well as mung bean pancakes and unfiltered rice wine (Hwang 137) and clam soup (Hwang 132). Foods familiar to western eaters appear as well, such as stir-fry (Hwang 56), chocolate bars (Hwang 69), sandwiches (Hwang 98), boiled eggs (Hwang 91) and oranges (Hwang 103). There are even chestnuts roasted over charcoal (Hwang 137)!
Let me know if this post was interesting or helpful at all, or if you’d like me to do a follow-up post about some of the other foods mentioned in the book. Please comment down below if you are knowledgable about any of the foods mentioned here–share your insight with us! If you haven’t read One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun yet, you can get your copy from the publisher here.
Did you like the soup? Mujae asked. Was it hot and refreshing enough for you?
Yes, I liked it, and yes, it was hot and clear and refreshing. Thank you for bringing me here, Mujae, I said, and Mujae smiled.
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