sundubu-jigae (non-meat dish)

Posted: January 15, 2014 in Korean

My sister came home from college one summer and declared she was a vegetarian. My parents, who let us do anything so long as it doesn’t affect our health, went along with it, but with great confusion. Dinner after dinner, my mother steamed broccoli and served it next to white rice. She learned vegetables she had never used before: boiled artichokes with butter, asparagus with a sprinkling of salt, white lettuce drenched in vinegar for “salad.” I am amazed my sister didn’t end up with protein deficiency or anemia by the summer’s end. Three months later, she invited chicken back into her diet, and a decade later, cows and bacon were kosher, too. But that summer opened my eyes to a new world of vegetarian eating, particularly as a non-beef eater myself.

I’ve learned through becoming more open-minded about what foods I eat that different countries have a different definition for “vegetarian.” It’s like the joke in My Big, Fat Greek Wedding:

Toula Portokalos: Ian is a vegetarian. He doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: He don’t eat no meat?
Toula Portokalos: No, he doesn’t eat meat.
[the room goes silent]
Aunt Voula: Oh that’s ok, That’s ok, I make lamb!

Here’s what I learned: the strict diet of ‘no live things’ seems to be a bit flexible in other countries. I learned to stop asking what was in my food in France when I fished a cow hoof out of the “vegetarian couscous.” “It adds flavor to the broth,” the chef explained. I was reading through Kimchi Chronicles and under the vegetarian section, found this recipe. The first ingredient: 20 dried anchovies, heads and innards discarded. Thankfully, I’m not a vegetarian. However, if the meaning of vegetarian in some countries is simply when the meat isn’t considered the main attraction, then it does push one to consider how we see our food, what we consider ‘sustenance,’ and how important conscience is to what we, fellow omnivores, eat.



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