I make fun of Dad a lot, but really I shouldn’t. Of course, it’s not nice to make fun of one’s parents, but in poking fun at Dad, I’m simply exhibiting my own self-hatred. Certainly there are a few things about me which make Dad wonder if I truly am his biological daughter, like every time the Captain, who keep his ship in perfect shape, visits and sees my mess of an apartment. But in so many ways, Dad and I are practically the same person. So snide comments, for example, about my Dad’s sweet tooth turning him into the Korean version of the stay-puff marshmallow are really self-deprecating remarks about my own lack of self-control around desserts. There must be some strange parent-offspring reverse personality projection psychology in there somewhere. I never took a psych class at Cal, so, yes, I don't really know what any of those words are.
My tastesbuds are a perfect representation of my parents. Half are directly descended from Mom – cocktails that aren’t sticky sweet, wine with dinner, sushi, foods that are so fiery hot we sweat, and dehn-jahng (Korean fermented soybean paste). The other half are genetic copies of my Dad – sweets, desserts, and, uh, anything with sugar and fat. Did I mention ice cream? Dad loves Spanish mackerel and I always order anchovies and sardines, but in the end, it’s all strong, oily fish. We also both like clear, brothy soups, but are on polar ends of the flavor spectrum. Dad likes the simple ones with one or two ingredients, and a very bland (not bland-boring, but bland-not spicy) base, like galbee-tahng. I prefer my soups with lots of different vegetables, meat optional, and always screaming with spice, like yook-gae-jahng. But ggori-gook, Korean oxtail soup, is one where Dad and I will meet in the middle.
I’m not sure what it is about ggori gook that turns us into five year olds at the dinner table. We snatch bones out of the soup bowl with our bare hands, tear at the tendrils of meat and fat, splash broth and bits of beef and garlic all over the tablecloth, slurp broth, and let out a noisy mmm with every bite. When we look up from our bowls, Mom and the Twins are staring wide-eyed and horror-stricken at our delightful feeding frenzy. Dad and I just ask for seconds.
As incredibly flavorful and delicious as the broth is, ggori gook is probably the simplest Korean soup to make with respect to ingredients. Aside from enough water to cover two times deep, it requires only two to three pounds of oxtails and four to five lightly crushed whole garlic cloves to cook. Salt, pepper, and chopped green onions for individual seasoning are served alongside the soup at the table. But though the ingredients are few, the effort comes in the long, watchful simmering. The oxtails, garlic and water simmer for at least two to three hours, with occasional skimming of foam from the surface. If you have the time, simmering longer creates a richer, darker soup, and the meat will fall away from the bones.
Mom taught me the trick of preparing soups a day in advance to let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Fat rendered from meat and bones will harden in a solid layer of lard at the surface, making it much easier to remove. It’s not always necessary for other soups, but oxtails are very fatty. That’s why they taste so good. But Mom has to be mindful of Dad's waistline. :)
There are plenty of places in LA’s Koreatown that serve ggori gook. Jinju on Western Avenue just south of 6th Street specializes in gom tahng and other long simmered beef based soups. Because gom tahng, suh lung tahng, and yook gae jahng are considered pre-emptive hangover cures (ancient Korean secret, I’m sure) Jinju is open 24 hours, packed with shiny red-faced twenty-somethings at 2 am. And few *ahem* thirty-somethings every once in a while.