Last October, I attended 2016 International Fermented Food Expo in Jeonju as an interpreter. The city in Jeolla-do province is a popular tourist destination and a mecca of traditional Korean cuisine. World-famous bibimbap, the rice dish with colourful toppings on top, is also originated from Jeonju. But the locals of the historic city may also select soybean sprouts soup (kongnamul gukbap, 콩나물국밥) as the signature dish of their hometown.
So much to eat at Jeonju’s Nambu Marketplace but first we had to try the famous soybean sprouts soup. Soybean sprouts, or kongnamul, is widely consumed throughout Korea but surprisingly I have not seen used so often in other Asian cuisine. Even in China we see more of bean sprouts than soybean sprouts. Kongnamul is especially popular as an ingredient in hangover soup. It is commonly accepted among Koreans that kongnamul effectively breaks down the alcohol.
We had some rice wine the night before so we definitely needed to cleanse our system with the help of magical kongnamul. The soup was served in hot stone bowl with a bowl of poached eggs on the side. My friend who had tried the soup before ordered a side of chopped squid. We also got a bowl of moju – a serving of makgeolli boiled with spices such as cinnamon. Now we are ready to enjoy the famous Jeonju kongnamul gukbap.
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy this hearty bowl of soup but some locals add the poached eggs directly to the soup while the others have them separately. My friend taught me the trick – you add a few spoons of hot broth to the egg bowl and let it cook slightly with the heat from the soup. You then enjoy the poached eggs first as appetizer before working with the hot stone bowl.
Adding more squid was surely a good idea – they add more depth to the overall flavour and give you something to chew on other than the soybean sprouts. I was especially in love with moju – a very weak alcoholic drink with lovely aroma of cinnamon. A cup of lukewarm moju got me into festive mode even before Christmas season comes.