In this time of lockdown, though it’s not possible to travel and gain more stamps in your passport, you can still explore the wonders of the world through your kitchen. Food has always been such an exciting and integral part of travel for me. When my husband and I plan a trip, I usually spend a lot of time researching the local cuisine and searching for cooking classes that we can attend while we’re on holiday.
When we travel, we try not to get too many souvenirs, but a few items are a must for me: fridge magnets and some local ingredient(s) that I can bring home and experiment with in the kitchen. In fact, I shamelessly ask family members who travel abroad to get me scrumptious ingredients too. What better time to use these treasured ingredients than now when I’m cooped up at home and dreaming of all the places I’d love to visit? If I could create the experience of being in Rome or Seoul right in my own home, well, that would be incredible!
To that end, I started rummaging through my pantry for ingredients that I can use and stumbled upon a few interesting things. I had some pasta that we got in Rome and canned kimchi that my dad got for me from Korea upon my request. I miss Rome terribly and I figured we’d start with a good ol’ bowl of pasta.
I’m not going to lie; the pasta we made at home tasted nothing like what we got there, but the whole process of cooking pasta and making the sauce together with my husband while reminiscing about our time in Rome did in a way transport us back there for a brief moment. Thinking back about Rome is quite bittersweet. We had a wonderful time there just months before the pandemic broke out and affected Italy so badly. I hope that Italy and all other countries recover soon. Till then, all we can do is stay home and do our part.
When my dad told me he was going to Korea for a conference some time ago, I jumped on the opportunity to get my hands on some authentic Korean ingredients. “Pa, have a safe journey. Call us when you get to your hotel and keep in touch. And while you’re there, if you could get me some kimchi, that would be great!” I said grinning from ear to ear and that’s how I have canned kimchi in my pantry.
I love Korean food and one fine day, I came across kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) while surfing the net and I knew I had to make it. I really enjoy kimchi and something in my gut was telling me that this stew would be magic. So I stayed up one night and researched how to make kimchi jjigae. Video after video, blog post after blog post until I was finally satisfied. You know you’re a foodie when things like this keep you up at night.
The next day, I got all my ingredients prepped: some skin-on boneless chicken thigh, onions, garlic, gochujang (Korean chilli paste), chilli flakes (to replace gochugaru, Korean chilli pepper flakes which I unfortunately don’t have), soy sauce, mushrooms, sundubu (soft tofu) and of course, canned kimchi. Alright, I must admit, I made a rather confused mix between kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), but the end result was very satisfying.
I sat in the hall with rice and a bowl of this kimchi-sundubu jjigae and I loved it. I’m sure my concoction is nowhere near an authentic Korean kimchi jjigae, but I had fun in the kitchen and the canned kimchi, courtesy of my dad, gave me a taste of beautiful Korea on a bleak day.
If you’re craving for Korean food too, here are the recipes that I found really helpful:
Exploring the world through our kitchen has become so much easier in this day and age. We’ve got access to various exotic ingredients right at our neighbourhood grocer and for the things we can’t find at the store, we can source for them online.
The truth is, in our kitchen lies the power to savour the world. In our kitchen lies adventure, excitement, and culture. So for those of you with wanderlust, do not feel dejected as your passport gathers dust in the months to come. Adventure and wonder can always be found by those who seek it - sometimes, in the most unexpected of places.