Kitchen Stories

Kim Su-ha

Words and photos by Karly Pierre

Kim Su-ha is an artist, although she hesitates to agree. Yet, the bright crocheted purses hanging from the wall in her cafe and the knitted hats on display for sale in the window are evidence of her talents. I pick up a pair of miniature jipsin (짚신), traditional Korean straw sandals, from the shelf. The weave is taut and painstakingly intricate – a feat she says she completed in one hour. At 61, Kim has owned Cafe Su for seven months. Though she calls Gwangju home now, she was born on Jeju, an island with a cuisine rich in the abundant seafood gathered off its shores and a notably lighter touch of spices than Jeollanamdo. She grew up in a large family with two brothers and four sisters. Her father was an illustrator, her mother was a teacher, and while growing up, gender roles were decidedly unconventional as far as cooking was concerned.

“My father was a great cook,” Kim says with a laugh, “better than my mother. He did everything. He went to the market to buy food, did the cooking, and even set the table. And I would help him.”

His specialty was chobap (초밥, sushi) and mandu (만두, dumplings).

She began cooking when she was in elementary school, and when she became the mother of two sons, she began a new family tradition.

“My favorite memory of cooking for my family is making bindaetteok (빈대떡, mung bean pancake), mandu, and drinking wine. On Seollal, we would make mandu together, but every day we would have bindaetteok and wine. I even let my children have a little wine when they were young,” she says with a smile. “These are recipes I learned from my father. He was from Gangwon-do, and these are regional specialties.”

As we sip the traditional jujube tea (대추차) in her cafe, she demurely mentions that she is also a poet. She invites me to visit with her again.

“I make Korean sweets also. I’ll call you when I make some,” she adds.

It is an offer I cannot refuse.

Cabbage and Shank Bone Soup 사골 우거지국

Serves up to 10 people
Writer’s Note: Since cabbage can be dried and is plentiful, Kim says she chose this recipe because 사골 우거지국 can be eaten year-round. She adds that this soup has many vitamins and can be shared with large groups of people. This soup is served every Monday in her restaurant.
1 beef leg bone
12 spring onions
1 cup garlic cloves
1 cup sea salt
2 ginger roots
20 peppercorns
1 cup red pepper powder
12 fresh red peppers
1 cabbage (outer leaves)
dried leaves from 1 radish

Cooking Method

  1. Thoroughly wash the beef leg bone.
  2. Place the bone in a large pot (2 gallons or 3.8 liters) of boiling water, briefly; then remove the bone from the water.
  3. Place the bone in the pot again. Using high heat, boil for about 5 minutes; then simmer the beef bone for 3–4 hours using medium to low heat. After, add the ginger and peppercorns and bring to a boil.
  4. Cut the cabbage and radish greens into medium-sized pieces. Add the cabbage and dried radish greens to the pot and boil. Boil for 3–4 hours more in the beef bone broth.
  5. Roughly cut the spring onions, and add to the soup. Boil for about 5 minutes.
  6. Mince garlic, then add to broth with salt and dried red pepper powder.
  7. Serve in a stone bowl with kkakdugi (깍두기, cubed radish kimchi)

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