Korean Cooking: Southern Mother Style Bean Sprout Soup (콩나물국)
On any normal week, my husband and I will head to the market together bringing along our bags and leaving behind our phones. It’s something we started after we moved in together for some reason or another, a major reason probably being that we don’t have a car and four hands carrying home groceries is always going to be better than two and that he’s Korean so reading labels and signs on things I’m not sure of is his job. I make sure we have something from all of the food groups while he keeps a watchful eye on the cost and comments when items are more costly than usual, in which case we’ll leave them be and focus on other vegetables or fruits. This week was busy for him and I ended up at the market by myself.
I decided I wanted to eat some bean sprout soup. He has always been the one to make the bean sprout soup, so I had to think carefully about what ingredients I would need to bring home for him. I picked up the bean sprouts no problem and then I focused on the tofu. I never ate tofu growing up, so buying it isn’t even on my radar. I stopped an older woman nearby and asked her if I had the right tofu, or if it mattered, for bean sprout soup.
“There isn’t tofu in bean sprout soup,” she replied.
I told her that my husband always puts tofu in our bean sprout soup and she grabbed another woman walking by and asked her what her take on the situation was. It was humorous and by the end of it I bought the tofu, one woman saying it didn’t go in while the other said tofu wouldn’t make much of a difference if it was in the soup or not.
Once I got home of course I recounted the story to my husband because getting myself into humorous Korean conversations can really happen with any topic I’ve found and because I wanted to get the full story on this tofu in the bean sprout soup. A simple question on my part and I’d ended up with two Korean women going back and forth and I didn’t think it should have been so difficult. Bottom line: My husband is from Busan and the southern style of bean sprout soup that we eat in our home, originally from his mother’s home, is not the same as the northern style that I’m surrounded with in Seoul.
I’ll give the recipe for our Southern Mother Style Bean Sprout Soup and comment on the differences at the end.
A Handful of anchovies (for the broth)
Two big handfuls of bean sprouts
1 medium sized potato
2 spicy green peppers
3 cloves of garlic
Half a block of tofu
Salt to taste
1. First the broth needs to get started. The anchovies can go straight into the water, but you’ll have to fish them all out later, or you can use a little contraption we found at the market that looks like a tea strainer but larger. Let the water come to a boil with your anchovies for 15 minutes while you prepare the other food.
2. Rinse the bean sprouts, dice the potatoes, mince the green peppers, mince the garlic and dice the tofu.
3. After the water has boiled for 15 minutes remove the anchovies and add the potatoes. Let boil for 10 minutes.
4. Add the bean sprouts, garlic and green peppers to the soup and turn down the heat. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Add the tofu last and let it cook until the tofu is warm, about 5 minutes, and serve.
To eat: It’s served with rice and a sunny side up egg on the side and Korean side dishes.
Another option: My husband likes to eat the soup with the rice and the sunny side up egg all in one bowl.
The major differences between the northern, Seoul, version and the southern, Busan, version are in the broth. In Seoul restaurants the broth will probably have been made just using plain water and no anchovies at all. Also, the addition of the tofu, the first point I brought up is a southern addition. The potatoes, which make our broth a bit cloudier than the northern version are also our southern mother’s addition. My husband said the potatoes may not necessarily be a southern thing, but it’s definitely his mother’s thing, which now makes it our thing.