Korean Eating: Bean Sprout Soup (콩나물국): The Red, The Cloudy & The Clear
Bean sprout soup, or kongnamul-guk (콩나물국), is one of my favorite dishes in Korea. It’s simple and clean, if that is a good adjective to use with food. It’s fresh and delicious and hits the spot no matter what mood I’m in. And if you’re in Korea you may be in for a surprise every time you order it. Why? Depending where you are and who is making it, the broth can be completely different.
In some places it’s served with a clear broth, in some places it’s served with a red broth and in some places it’s served with a cloudy broth and yet on the menu they all have the same name, kongnamul-guk, with no distinctions made.
Every time I order it I expect to get the clear broth because that’s what I first ate it with many years ago, but thankfully, I love all of them, clear, red or cloudy and whatever comes, I eat it up.
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This past week, some friends and I headed down to Busan to see the sights including the must see Taejongdae cliffs, the popular Jagalchi Fish Market, Let’s Eat Alley, the gorgeous seaside Buddhist temple and more. We woke up good and early and found the closest restaurant to us across the street from Gwanganli beach and joined some local Koreans in some soup for breakfast. The menu only had two options and of the two the ajjuma told us we’d like to have kongnamul-guk, so we trusted her and went with it. FYI: Korean restaurants that only have one or two things on the menu are likely to have those done really well.
The red broth, as many would assume, is the spicier of the broths.
Hot pepper flakes are added to give it a kick, otherwise it’s the same soup as the others. In the north, the broth is usually clear, it’s just water boiled and then the bean sprouts and other ingredients are added. The cloudier version of the soup is made with anchovy broth, which is normally a southern addition. All of the versions are delicious and I find that kongnamul-guk is a good dish to try in each area of Korea to gauge differences in styles of cooking. To try your hand at a Korean style bean sprout soup, check out my post: Southern Mother Style Bean Sprout Soup, in which my husband teaches me how to make the dish according to his mother from Busan.
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