Korean Eating: Wait… I’m eating mud? 추어탕
There have been a few times in Korea when I was glad that I wasn’t told what I was eating until after I was done eating it and chuotang was one of those times.
Usually the issue is just with translations. Who wants to hear they’re eating penis fish? Who wants to hear they’re eating the cow’s third stomach? The translations are just never as appetizing as the dishes that are served. With chuotang however, it isn’t the translation that’s the issue, it’s just the name of the fish. Chuotang (추어탕) is mud fish stew. Considering the word mud and that the stew arrives and it’s a muddy brown color, it’d be a difficult sell for anyone. It also would not have been surprising to me if there was in fact mud in it, probably “healthy” mud though. A few years ago I was given ggomak, 꼬막, or cockles, to eat at a party. A bowl full of these small shells arrived with dirt and sand all over them. I assumed they hadn’t been washed or prepared yet only to look around and see everyone devouring them… that dish still hasn’t grown on me.
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Luckily, chuotang does not actually have mud in it. The mudfish, or loach fish, is crushed up in its entirety and boiled with leaks, green onions, cabbage, garlic, soybean paste and red pepper paste. It has a very familiar taste, yet it’s hard to say exactly what it is. It has a minty or an all spice taste and at times the bite can be a little gritty, ground up fish after all, but it’s worth it. The soup is filling, but not heavy. As is the norm in Korea, the soup is served with rice and side dishes. Our local stop, a Chunhyanggol Namwon Chueotang (춘향골남원추어탕) just up the street, also offers up fried stuffed green peppers. This restaurant is a branch and can be found all around Korea.
Chuotang is mighty healthy.
The dish is high in protein, iron, calcium, vitamin A and unsaturated fat. It helps in lowering cholesterol and helps with constipation. It’s good for energy and stamina. There’s nothing bad about this soup, except for maybe the color. The next time you see chuotang on the menu, give it a try. You won’t be sorry.