The simple task of making the evening meal turned into screams of hysteria when I decided to make ojingo bokkum , a dish I’ve made lots of times before. Unaware of what lay ahead, I headed down to my local market to get some ingredients. I usually make it with squid, onions, carrots, shitake mushrooms and sesame leaves. But this time I thought I’d try it with minari, water dropwort, instead. And this is where the trouble started.
I’ve only bought minari once before and that was in the supermarket where it usually comes nicely folded over and neatly packaged. In the market it usually comes in such big bunches that I don’t think I will use it all. But this time I decided to give it a go.
When I got home I cut up all the vegetables and washed and sliced the squid and made yang-nyom – and put it all in the pan ready to go. Then I took out the minari. I wasn’t sure exactly how to prepare it. I’m sure I read instructions in a cookbook that I should take the leaves off the plant and just use the stems but when we’ve eaten out I’ve noticed that the minari in meuntang for example still has the leaves on it. So after staring at it for a while I said to Mr Kim
Can we eat all of this minari, or what?
He comes in to inspect it.
I think you should cut the ends off because they look too thick and hard. But use the rest.
With the leaves on?
So I cut the ends off and then take about half of the bunch that’s left and put it in a big basin of water to wash. I’m running my hands through the minari cleaning it when I notice what looks like a dead leaf on a stem and so I pick it off. But as I pick it off it begins to squirm up my hand. I let out a scream and the “dead leaf” falls into the sink and is still moving. Mr Kim comes running into the kitchen.
I’m studying the creature in the sink from a safe distance.
It’s a worm, I say.
It’s not a worm, he says, and in fairness it doesn’t really look like my idea of a worm.
It’s more blobby, not so long and thin, and a different colour to what I would expect.
It’s a komori, he reckons.
After consulting a Korean-English dictionary I learn that a komori is – a LEECH.
This made me scream again and leap away from the sink with my hands over my mouth, (after checking my hand for bite marks) eyes wide open staring at Mr Kim paralyzed with the image of big fat slimy killers leaping out at me from the sink, digging their blood-sucking jaws into my body to suck out the life until I am lying on the kitchen floor like a deflated balloon.
Yes, I know leeches are used in medicine to heal all sorts of problems and I watched with interest the scenes in Heojun, the historical medical Kdrama, when he used leeches on patients. But watching a doctor on TV calmly handling leeches for medical purposes is one thing. Having one crawl up your hand is another.
Of course there are some bugs I wouldn’t be overly shocked to find on vegetables – greenfly perhaps, or a caterpillar if the veggies are homegrown. Last summer when I was back in the UK with my family, my mum got some lettuce from the garden to make a salad. Then when we were having lunch my brother spat something out on his plate. The blob rolled across the plate in a ball and when it came to a stop, it stretched out, popped out two feelers and continued to slither across the plate. A common garden slug. We all found this very amusing, except my brother. He wasn’t afraid, though. He was just disgusted!! But I just don’t expect to find wildlife on food bought from the shops.
It can’t be a leech I said in the end after calming down.
It didn’t fit the image I had in my head. It was too skinny for starters. And I’ve never seen a leech in real life.
Haven’t you thought about where minari grows? Mr. Kim asks.
Well, to be honest, I haven’t. I haven’t thought about it at all. Apparently it’s grown in marshy water – hang on – the same place that leeches live? So actually, it is possible that it’s a leech. And then I got to thinking about how I don’t think about where my food comes from as much as I should. It just comes from the market or the shop. Only when something like this happens do I have to look at a bigger picture. I forget how removed we are from nature, living in manmade concrete cities where the sight of a small creature, that was quite happily minding its own business on a minori leaf before being unceremoniously yanked from his home and dragged to the city, can bring a woman to shrieks bordering on hysteria. I feel bad now. Sorry Mr Leech. Still made Mr Kim wash the rest of the minari though.