Hi all. I have a video for you today.
I’m switching things up. Since the arrival of my new camera, I’ve been playing around with the video function, and during spring break I learned a little bit about how to use Adobe Premiere Pro. So make videos I did.
Most of my short clips were video-focused, and there was one night when I recorded my mom cooking dinner. She was making pa-jeon, or Korean scallion pancakes. Although this was purely coincidental, my mom making Korean pancakes was exactly in line with my midterm paper for my Kitchen Culture class.
The pancake that my mom makes in the video is not the one that I wrote about in my essay; that one is very special to our family, made with potatoes, salt, and lots of love. But really, these pancakes can be made with any kind of batter (white flour, rice flour, grated potatoes, buckwheat flour) and any kind of filling (in this case scallions, but they can have seafood, meat, or any assortment of vegetables).
(This one is a more elaborate scallion pancake that we had in Korea, that also had a copious amount of eggs ladled into it).
It seems to me that pancakes are ubiquitous to any cuisine. You can call them pancakes, or jeon, or naan, but anywhere you go, you’ll find some sort of flat, bread-y thing that’s been cooked over a hot pan or griddle.
They can be sweet…
Although jeon or buchimgae is most often eaten as a side dish or banchan, it’s also an important dish for the dining table during ancestral ceremonies or any sort of festival. On the other side of the spectrum, these pancakes are also really popular food to eat when drinking – because who wouldn’t want delicious fried, flat circles when you’re getting belligerently drunk?
But my family’s special potato pancakes are super-simple. (This is it, by the way, in case you couldn’t tell).
I know, it looks really plain. And it is. The only things you have to do to make this is grate up some potatoes, strain out some of the water, add salt, then fry the potato mix in a pan.
So what makes it so special? Well, it’s a jeon that I feel is pretty unique to our family; I’ve never seen it on a restaurant menu, and although that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it’s definitely not as common as a scallion jeon or a seafood jeon.
Second, as plain as it is, this is a dish that we have at every family reunion. Every time my maternal family gets together, guess what’s guaranteed to be on the dining table. Yup, this potato pancake. It sits, in all of its golden, crispiness, beside plates and plates of more elaborate dishes. But we also eat it on any normal weeknight dinner, because it’s so easy to make. But the question remains.. Why is my family so attached to this jeon out of all Korean foods?
While doing research for this paper, I interviewed both my mom and my grandpa on why this was so special to our family.
It turns out that both my grandparents are from North Korea. Technically, it’s just northern Korea, because they lived there before the Korean War, and before the 38th Parallel, and before there was a North and South Korea.
Once the war broke out, my grandmother’s family moved down south to safety; however, my grandpa’s family left later, and he ended up getting drafted into the South Korean army.
As a soldier of the Korean War, my grandpa traveled all over and around the Korean peninsula for both training and fighting. During his service, he ate potatoes in every size, shape, and form. Korea is a mountainous country (ideal for growing potatoes), and they were cheap (cheaper than rice) and very filling.
Among the many potato-based dishes that he ate during this time, the potato pancake was my grandfather’s favorite. I’m guessing that its crispy exterior and warm, chewy middle won him over.
Since the war’s ended and he’s moved to Seoul, my grandfather has perfected the potato jeon recipe and made it many times for our family. Even though my grandmother, my mom, or my aunt are usually the ones who do the cooking, this particular dish is the only one that my grandpa alone can make right. He’s always made it for my cousins and I, and it’s a dish that he takes pride in making. I remember him feeding it to me since I was a baby, and even now when he visits us in New Jersey, he never fails to to make it at least once.
(By the way, my grandpa still loves anything that has potatoes, although this is his very favorite).
So there it is. The actual history and the family history of the Korean pancake. Pretty personal, I know, but I hope it was informative. And now it’s up to me to learn how to make this potato pancake. It’s a family dish you know.