Impromptu Korean Tuna Rice Bowl

May 22, 2016

Most nights, I can't bring myself to cook Western food. Outside of Seoul - and certainly in our small Korean town - it can be quite challenging to find proper ingredients. There are expats here who thrive on imported pastas and cheeses, salads with grilled chicken breast, and sandwiches. Mediocre components of all of these dishes can be found at Homeplus (the Target of Korea). During our trip to the USA for our wedding several weeks ago, I stocked up on some choice ingredients that are impossible to find in our adopted country: quality dried heirloom beans; dried chiles and corn tortillas; my favorite Chicago hot sauces; medicinal herbs such as comfrey leaf and mullein; good whiskey. Some staples (peanut butter and unrefined olive oil) are routinely ordered online. And occasionally, we just need a taste of home to get through the week. 

Most evenings, however, simple Korean fare rules our kitchen. Bibimbap (mixed vegetables with rice and red pepper sauce) is a common dinner choice, as are my husband's spicy cold noodles (bibimguksu). A typical meal for Korean small-scale restaurant owners - which they will often eat in the restaurant while you dine on whatever fare they are serving - is kimchi and rice wrapped in dried seaweed.

Recently, I discovered jumeokbap, which are similar to Japanese onigiri. Jumeokbap are rice balls seasoned with sesame oil and salt and coated in (or mixed with) crushed, dried seaweed. I had them at our local noodle shop a few weeks back. This particular version of jumeokbap contained no filling, just rice mixed with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and salt and then covered in thinly sliced seaweed. The flavor was surprisingly subtle and fresh. After trying them, I went online to search for recipes and was inspired by the collection of jumeokbap variations out there. You can pretty much fill them with whatever you'd like.

Today, I attempted to make jumeokbap filled with tuna and sliced egg. I mixed canned tuna with mayonnaise, spicy Korean red pepper flakes, and my new favorite seasoning, which I also happened to pick up on the trip home. I beat two eggs and fried them thin in a skillet, then sliced them into strips. I prepared sticky brown rice in the rice cooker and mixed it with a spoonful of sesame oil and some packaged jumeokbap seasoning powder containing bits of seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and dehydrated vegetables.

Sadly, I learned that I am not adept at forming the rice balls around the filling. They fell apart and I couldn't salvage them into anything resembling a circular shape. As a last resort, I threw the rice into a bowl, spooned some tuna in beside it, then added strips of egg and roughly scissored pieces of dried seaweed. I drizzled a bit of unrefined flax seed oil on top and jjajan (tada)! A delicious Korean/fusion rice bowl was ready to mix and eat! 

I would estimate that 50-60% of my cooking is improvised. Recipes are made to be considered and judiciously disobeyed. If you're an expat living in Korea, do you regularly cook Korean food? Which dishes do you prefer?

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  1. Yay!! You're posting more often. I love this description of food. It all sounds very good. But wait... you can't buy PEANUT BUTTER in a local grocery in Korea? Really? I kind of assumed that peanut butter was a worldwide thing, but then come to think of it, I don't remember seeing it in other countries I have visited.

  2. Tower, I am just now seeing your comment, sorry!! We can't buy the kind of peanut butter that I like - just roasted peanuts, no added crap - here. It's all sugary, junky stuff! Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting!


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