By the time I entered college, I thought of myself as a rather experienced eater. Born and raised in a multicultural family in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had been exposed to all sorts of foods from the get-go and was rarely fazed by anything "weird" (Chicken feet? Sure. Alligator tail? No problem. Crab innards? Give it to me over rice.) And my young adult self was certain that there was no cuisine I had yet to conquer.
Then I met the guy who is now my husband, and he proceeded to rock my world with the marvels of Korean food. Yeah, I had experienced plenty of barbecue and jjigaes (stews) by then, but one night he took me to a Korean-owned sushi joint tucked away in a tiny Oakland strip mall, and he ordered us two heaping bowls of hwae dup bap that seriously changed my life.
According to my loose understanding of the Korean language, hwae dup bap translates to raw fish over rice, and while it lacks the orchestrated beauty of Japanese chirashi, you can think of it as chirashi's untamed cousin. Everyone has their own version of this dish (my husband remembers his mom making a simple version with just sashimi and rice for church picnics), but the general equation is as follows (from the bottom up): sushi rice, greens, chopped raw fish, fish roe, and a quail egg, drizzled with sesame oil and a vinegary gochujang sauce. It's refreshing, light, but incredibly filling, and it will change the way you think about sashimi. The Japanese girl in me still enjoy a slice of toro delicately dabbed in shoyu and fresh wasabi, but my newfound Korean side absolutely melts for hwae dup bap.
I based this recipe on our spot in the East Bay which included seaweed salad to round out its from-the-sea flavor. If you have access to good quality sashimi and an Asian grocery store, then you'll have all the ingredients you need for this explosive dish. For the recipe, read on.
When I was a kid, we would go to Hawaii just about every summer because for us fogged-in San Franciscans, it was our opportunity to get consistent (warm) sunshine for more than one day. Most of the time, we stayed in condos because they were more economical, and I looked forward to breakfast because it meant one thing: Apple Jacks. Or Corn Pops. Or Cocoa Puffs, for that matter. I was never allowed sugary cereal at home, and vacations (or trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house) were the only chance I had to infuse my diet with more sugar than you'd find in the nearby cane fields. These days, the only time I eat that stuff is for dessert (and I do admit picking up a box at the grocery store from time to time just for that purpose), but I still have fond memories of the excitement I experienced waking up that first morning in Hawaii thanks to the Capt'n Crunch awaiting me in the kitchen.
It probably wasn't until I was about 10 that I discovered the other Hawaiian breakfast. You know, the kind that real Hawaiians invented and eat. Really, Hawaiian breakfast foods are quite diverse because of the richness of cultures that infuse the islands. In some households, kimchi may be a constant condiment. In others, a piece of raw or cooked fish is a fixture. Other folks can't do without some Portuguese sausage. In my heart, Hawaiian breakfast will always mean rice, fried eggs, and Spam.
My family has never had an aversion to Spam. Sure, we buy the low sodium variety (which is still off-the-charts high in salt...that's why it's so GOOD!!). But I guess having parents who are from the generation born around World War II means that we have never been afraid to eat mystery meat out of a can. I remember eating Spam, rice, and vegetables for dinner which usually meant finding Spam and mustard sandwiches packed in my lunch bag the next day. These days, we eat Spam in our kimchi jjigae or kimchi bokkeumbap (thank goodness I found a partner who shares my love for this delicacy). But the simplicity of a few slices of Spam alongside a scoop of rice and a couple of runny-yolk eggs is heavenly. I'm not providing a recipe, for as long as you can cook rice and open a pull-top can, you can have a hearty breakfast like this one in 10 minutes.
Here's an oldie but goodie...I was reminded of it this week as I was eating the leftovers from my weekend batch. Kimchi fried rice is great when you have lots of leftover rice and kimchi that is teetering on the brink of over-ripeness, and it's fine with any meat you have in the fridge -- chicken, pork, beef -- but it's stellar with Spam. Yes, Spam. I buy it in bulk at Costco. It makes for an easy Hawaiian breakfast with eggs and rice, and generally substitutes for meat when the fresh variety isn't easily accessible. My dad grew up eating meat out of a can -- granted, he was born at the outset of World War II when rationing was mandated -- and he will agree that sometimes you can't beat an evenly-formed loaf of salty pork parts.
Kimchi bokkeumbap is also fantastic hangover food, not that I've actually put it to the test in recent years given my teetotaling ways. But as it's the perfect blend of eggy, spicy, starchy, salty, and a little greasy, it reminds me of those Sunday mornings back in the late nineties when I'd get myself back on track with a Denny's Grand Slam and a bottle of Tabasco. For the recipe, read on.
My first job out of college, I got paid $28K a year to be an assistant media planner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. They had been hiring like mad that year, so by the time I started, they had run out of cubicles, and my desk was relegated to the hallway just outside the fire exit. Within a few days, I had found this awesome Chinese restaurant that did a killer salted fish and chicken fried rice, so crunched for time one afternoon, I got it to go and eagerly sat down at my sad little desk in the hallway to chow down on one of the only delicacies that $28K a year could buy me. Within minutes, the occupants of the offices around me began sticking their heads out of their doors with looks of disgust scrawled across their faces. "What IS that??!!" one Account Director gasped. "It smells like FEET!" I knew at once that my career in advertising was coming to an abrupt and bitter end. Luckily, the lady next door to him was Chinese, and she ran to my aid, exclaiming "Salted fish? That's my favorite!" My thoughts exactly. So for this recipe, I pay homage to her for saving my career. Read on for the recipe.