Embrace The Fish Paste

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This here is my friend odeng which is, basically, the Korean take on Japanese oden.  Resting on those skewers are strips of processed fish paste simmering away in a vegetable and jujube broth.  On the left are bowls of pepper-enhanced soy sauce for your dipping needs.

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It’s street food basically, and the hot pieces of fish and the warm broth make it a favorite during the fall and winter, or after visiting a temple or taking a hike.

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After coming down the hill from Buseok Temple, or any temple in Korea for that matter, you’ll find tons of these carts set up with various older women slinging out their own takes on the dish.  In the background you can see an open pink bucket of dongdongju, a thick, milky, and sour fermented rice wine.  The hot sting of the odeng is perfectly washed down the by icy head rush of the fairly strong alcohol (drunk from a cup, not a bowl, always).

You and your friends stand (never sit!) and have as much fish and booze as you like, then pay per skewer ravaged  and per bowl ingested.  The system is poetry, really.  And for no extra charge you can grab a paper cup and ladle in some of the odeng broth to sip on.

When I first moved here I’ll admit, I found the flavor of odeng to be pretty bland.  And I thought dongdongju was nice with spicy foods, but not something I’d want to drink every weekend.

But this stuff has totally grown on me.  When I go hiking in the fall, or even on cooler spring days, odeng and dongdongju are essential parts of the experience.  It’s one of those flavor combos where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

And honestly, you have to drink some of the broth, even if it’s been sitting outside for possibly days on end.

Why?  Well, because Korea.

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