Much as I love home, every so often (three to six times per week) I consider escape. Sometimes it’s the weather, and periodically it’s people – sometimes it’s both (though rarely is it some of the weather or all of the people). Sometimes the grey is all around and the idea of putting on a coat or fighting back is exhausting and you don’t care enough to do either because it’s the west coast and there will always be damp and because some people are going to rain on your parade whether it’s warranted or not. And that’s when I think of Korea. I’ve never been there. They do clever things with cabbage and have excellent pancakes.
A million years ago now, when I was very small, my grandpa returned from Korea with a pair of pretty dolls in blue dresses. They had marabou fans and elaborate hairstyles and I thought that everything pretty like that came from Japan until Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And then I found out where Reykjavik was and then I thought I knew everything. I hope you know that those two thoughts are not completely related. Korea. Seoul. I want to go.
Seven years ago I attempted to teach a Korean family English. They’d hired me as a tutor, totally unqualified, and they were so earnest and funny that I couldn’t wait to see them every week. They tried to teach me a thing about Korea for every thing I taught them about Canada or grammar or homonyms, and often that involved food. They had one son, Daniel, who was ten years old and worried that strangers would kidnap him because of his handsomeness. I told him to be wary of vans and free candy. His mother taught me about salty little dried fish and kim chi, and I’ve since tried in vain to find anything as good as the stuff she made at home. Her tofu was not the stuff of hippies.
My love affair continues, and with each passing year I wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t made it there yet. If my bank account contained enough for airfare, or if airfare was forty dollars, which I have, I’d be gone. (Don’t worry: When I go, I’m taking Nick with me.)
But it’s not my turn. This week David is leaving. He’s going to Amsterdam to ride his bike to Istanbul, and then he’s probably going to Germany to get even more educated, and he’s already one of the top eight smartest people I know. I assume he will miss Vancouver’s diverse culinary scene, most particularly the Asian stuff. It’s good here. Very good, every kind. Also I’m kind of selfish and have been harbouring escape fantasies, and so I planned for a room of us to dine Korean and send him off while I attempt to live kind of vicariously through David. Well, kind of Korean. I really wanted the pancake. (I really want all pancakes.)
As with all my plans, what started off as a quiet little evening soon grew to include all the people who actually ought to have been invited, and soon there were ten. In my mind, that was a totally reasonable number to try and feed, so I estimated that dinner would take a total of twenty minutes to prepare. In future, I will make time for what I like to call “inevitable realizations,” or: “I have no pans big enough to make this much food.” Thankfully, Greg offered his place across the street as a venue. I bought four pounds of Chinese noodles, many little bags of baby bok choy, and too many green things that I would have to accommodate in some way, probably the oven. I also had to double the pancake recipe, and because of that, bake it instead of fry it, which turned out more than okay, like Korean Toad in the Hole.
I’ve decided that you really ought to have my doubled-up recipe, and that you should probably bake it.
Pa jun or pajeon, or: “That really good pancake I like.”
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups rice flour
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 cups cold club soda (or beer)
- 1 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 cup green onions
- 1 cup carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup zucchini, julienned
- 1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. black pepper
Grease a baking sheet with 1/4 cup of the oil. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Add your baking sheet and let the oven and the sheet heat up together.
Pull the baking sheet out of the oven once the “it’s not ready” red light goes out (which means it’s ready). Add your vegetables.
In a large bowl, mix your flours, your eggs, your soda, one tablespoon of oil, your salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and whisk to combine. Pour over the veggies, tucking any strays into the batter blob.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve with a quick little sauce, and a bit of kim chi, which I’d meant to include but totally forgot about. The sauce?
- 4 tbsp. soy sauce
- 4 tbsp. cheongju (Korean rice wine) or sake
- 4 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp. sesame oil
- 4 tbsp. lemon juice
- Salt, to taste
Serve to others. Because there is no love like the love between people who love pancakes.
Of course I am excited for David and his magical adventures. Though it is beginning to feel like time for my own adventures. Sometimes you fall into them, and sometimes your life pushes you in – I’ll let you know what compels me, once something finally does.
In the meantime, eat pancakes.