This was our last meal in Gangwon-do, the second-to-last meal of our trip. It’s called “chodang sundubu,” “sundubu” being the soft curds at the stage right before tofu. The city of Gangneung is famous for making its tofu with the local seawater, which gives it a lingering but clean flavor of salt. So they serve it like this, completely white and unadorned, with a little dish of soy sauce if you want it. Diane and I didn’t.
It was the best thing we could have eaten at that point.
We had just met a woman who had restored and preserved her family’s 300-year-old home. She had told us with a quiet passion about her family’s history, the way her grandfather used to welcome and feed wandering scholars, rich with education but nothing else; about the way she had come to decide the buildings were worth preserving in a style few others maintained; about the intense emotion, more complex than pride, that she had felt when she found a full-size replica of a Korean house, just like her own, at the British Museum in London.
We would go on to drive on a winding road through the mountains of Seoraksan National Park, leaving just before the sky got completely dark. We would get back to our hotel late, tired but full of everything we had seen.
Now that I’m back in New York, the two weeks we spent in Korea feel almost like a dream. We didn’t go thinking that we could learn everything we needed to learn to write a cookbook. We hoped more for inspiration, for context, for a sense of history and tradition that was broader than the personal experiences of our families.
I’m more overwhelmed than ever. I wish I had a lifetime to do justice to this subject. But I’m also even surer that I want to write about this and not wait for someone more authoritative to come along. In the end, for me, this isn’t just about food. I just hope I can figure out how to do it.