Some of my favorite things about Ongdalsam are the delicious meals and food events that bring people to our mountain village in Chungju. A man named Kim Hong Do recently gifted two gamasot cauldrons, big enough to feed 200 people. So of course, we opened up a huge feast in celebration. I never imagined so many people would travel here on a Tuesday afternoon. It was amazing to experience a new side of Ongdalsam–as a gathering place.
Suh Mi Soon is a traditional food specialist and one of the coolest people here at Ongdalsam. I always see her reaching into humongous earthen wares, pickling vegetables and making fermented hyoso tea.
I spotted Kim Hong Do and some monks chatting about the new gamasot. The two monks who joined us for the feast told me they rise early each morning to prepare rice for the monastery breakfast. It’s their way of life, but something most Koreans rarely ever get to experience. As you can imagine, I stuck around from the beginning until the rice was done!
The monks explained that the most important part is learning to control the fire, because of the way cast-iron transfers heat. We used oak tree for firewood and brought water to boil before adding the rice. Once it reaches boiling temperature, you have to move all the firewood into the second fire-pit and completely extinguish the fire by throwing in coarse sea-salt. The cauldron will remain hot enough to cook the rice.
My favorite dish was the spicy and savory eggplant jangajji–a pickled vegetable dish. I was so busy running from place to place, I barely got to partake in the actual feast. It was still nice to see so many people enjoy an Ongdalsam meal.
A good party should have good music, right? An ensemble of young samulnori performers joined us for the feast. They were so amazing I ran out to grab my field recorder, but there is something magical about live performances that is hard to really capture.
Do you know what the word “ongdalsam” means? It’s spring water that trickles down from the mountains into a small well.