Monday, May 30, 2011

Say Chee-juh!

My new favourite Korean snack is cheesy ramyeon. This is two minute noodles (ramyeon in Korean) with processed cheese. I resisted their charms for months because, well, they just sounded gross. How wrong I was.

The Korean language doesn't have a "z" sound, so most Koreans have trouble pronouncing it. In Konglish, the name given to Korean words borrowed from English, Z's are written as ᄎ. This letter is pronounced somewhere between "ch" and "j", so pizza becomes "pee-cha", zombie becomes "jom-bee" and "I saw a zebra at the zoo" becomes "I saw a jeebra at the jew."

This is where things get tricky. Korean has a very limited range of sounds which can end a syllable. "S", "ch" and "j" sounds in particular are out. If you put one of these letters at the end of a syllable it will be pronounced "t". Why? Because Korean is cray-jee. Ye-suh it i-suh. So  if we want to write cheese, we not only have to replace the "z" sound with a "ch" sound, we have to shove another syllable in there to get that sound pronounced. After all this mangling, "cheese" becomes 치즈 (chee-juh).

Once you've got your tongue around cheesy ramyeon the word, it's time for the dish itself. There are two ways to have cheesy ramen. The first is at a kimbap nara, a type of Korean diner. The ramyeon is just regular old packet instant noodles in a huge bowl of spicy broth, with a slice of processed cheese expertly plonked on top.

It's a good feed for 2,500 won (NZ $3), the cheese and the spiciness of the flavouring sachet making for a strange but delicious combination. Unfortunately the cheese tends to melt and get diluted by the excessive broth. Much better to make your own, using one of these: 

That's a pack of cheese ramyeon you can make at home. It comes with a noodle cake, a flavour sachet, a tiny and completely pointless sachet of dried vegetables, and a pack of cheese powder. For those of you cooking along at home, the red arrow points to the cheese powder. You cook the noodles with the flavouring and veges, then mix in the cheese at the end. The advantage here is that you can pour off most of the liquid before you add the cheese, making a kind of spicy Korean mac and cheese.

Okay, so it doesn't look so great in the photo, but trust me it's 맛있어요 ("mah-shee-suh-yo") - delicious.