Girl Seven, finished with their adornments and back in front of the camera, all shouted boisterously. Jinsuk stepped forward and spoke as if he had been waiting for this moment.
“I have some experience in the kitchen…”
The end of his sentence trailed off but Girl Seven’s attention immediately turned to him. Hyorim asked right away.
“Do you cook well, Jinsuk?”
Sparkling eyes filled with expectation all gathered around him at once. He answered them nonchalantly but with a touch of pride.
“I got a license as a Korean cuisine chef before my debut. Ask me anytime if you have any questions.”
There was no need for another relief pitcher. He was the lifeline that had appeared at just the right moment..
“Wow! Korean cuisine expert!”
“For real? You’re not going to add ramen soup powder when no one’s looking, right?”
Jinsuk regained his confidence amid the attention of these beauties with their newly made-up faces.
“I did it as a hobby. I didn’t know this either but I heard compliments saying I have natural talent. Hahaha!”
He boasted openly, and Girl Seven’s faces looked as though they had met their savior.
“Please help me with my cooking!”
“Me too! What ingredients should I prepare? Just tell me~”
They winked at him and turned up the cuteness. He knew they were like foxes wagging their tails but because he was a man he couldn’t help but smile contentedly.
But Sora still was loyal. She kept her ground instead of fluttering about. As a result the rest of the girls all gathered in front of Jinsuk. It was apparent that the cameras intended to capture the scene from one side and the facial expressions on the other side.
‘Who knew he would even have a license.’
His expression seemed as though he was prepared, and surely he was.
“That’s really unexpected. A chef with those muscles?”
Minho stood next to Sora.
“Uh? That was a dangerous remark, oppa.”
“Nah~ He definitely looks like a health trainer who consumes protein supplements and mixed grain powder in milk.”
Minho replied and then looked into the camera and asked.
“Viewers, you think that way as well, right? Salad with chicken breast meat and egg whites only. I’m talking about a health guy who strictly maintains his body. That kind of guy, a cook? It’s very surprising.”
Sora saw Minho nodding and laughing as he said this. Either way the situation didn’t look good for her. Minho thought Jinsuk had practiced making a few dishes for the broadcast, but he had a national license.
Of course he would be the best of the flock of non-expert cooks.
“There’s no time to be messing around. Oppa, what are you thinking about doing?”
She thought it would be better to get more on-air time rather than putting in much effort among the other members.
Sora asked Minho the question as she poked his side and Minho exaggeratedly twisted his body.
“What do you mean? I was going to just follow Dojin hyungnim around for a free ride but now it’s Jinsuk I’ll follow around.”
“Gosh! Oppa, this is a competition. Competition!”
She came toward Minho as she stressed the last word so that it wouldn’t be heard too loudly. Minho flinched and rubbed his nose. It was nice to show cooperation between them but it seemed like Sora wanted more than that.
“Is being yesterday’s ace not enough?”
“Of course it’s not enough. Yesterday is next week’s content and today is the following week’s content. Once the footage is edited we might as well not be in that week.”
Minho thought all he needed to do was treat the elders well with food but that was a miss. This wasn’t a holiday vacation where they came to the countryside to help the grandpas and grandmas and go home. Minho still lacked Sora’s resolution and fierceness.
“Oppa, Do you know how to cook any country food?
“Well, I vaguely learned how to make Japchae* over the shoulder. You boil some glass noodles, put vegetables in and stir fry it with some soy sauce.”
When Sora stared as if to ask “How about the taste?” Minho replied, “Soy sauce plus sugar?” as he scratched his head.
“We don’t always have to do this well. Wouldn’t it be funny if we bustle around? Like cooking with beginner cooks!”
“We did that long time ago already.”
“…Let’s think of ideas to make potato digging funny.”
Minho was slightly flustered Sora’s insistence that he do something. ‘I’m not a magic genie that appears if you rub the lamp and fulfills your wish. Why does this girl keep asking me to think of a clever plan?’ On top of that, Sora was sticking to his side pressuring him and they would be mistaken as siblings if someone else saw them.
Even if this was nothing special, it did feel like they had grown very close.
“Then how about this? I’m diligently working and then you come criticize me harshly. It’s like a beginner teaching another beginner.”
“I said we did that already.”
“I’ll take the role of Nolbu* who doesn’t listen.”
“And you’re giving up on taste?”
Minho made a buzzer sound and made an X mark with his hands.
“You’re bad. And greedy.”
Minho thought it would be better to stick with Girl Seven as they bustled around to get more screen time in situations like this.
“Greedy? Ah! Wait a minute.”
It seemed she had thought of an idea all of a sudden. Sora quickly took out the map the floor director had provided. She meticulously looked over the map of the elders’ homes and finally stopped her finger at one location.
“Huh? That laugh! Did you think of something?”
“This house here. There’s a grandma named Hwajung Yoon who is known to cook fine foods. There was a time Dojin oppa went to learn because she cooks well. Let’s go here and find a way to make your Japchae deliciously. Then we can treat the elders with that.”
‘But you and I are both beginners.’
Minho pushed down his inner thoughts. Her eyes shone with an unexplainable passion and it didn’t seem like he would be able to get through to her.
“Aren’t we causing her trouble?”
“This grandma is very thoughtful. Let’s try the Japchae with her.”
If the other team was going to be amazing with their Korean cuisine licensed chef, as had been suggested, then maybe they should go with a fresh image. Minho wanted to check one more time, to be sure there wouldn’t be any resentment later.
“Sora. this is an individual mission. Will you be alright going around with me? You know, the screen time.”
Sora pointed to Jinsuk who was surrounded by the other members of Girl Seven.
“I don’t think adding one more person to that picture will make the broadcast any more fun.”
Though she didn’t say it, she also had a sense of anticipation. She wouldn’t be at a loss if she stayed with Minho who kept showing his excellent skills. She expected this could turn into a great success if it went well.
Sora led the way.
It was the house that had a persimmon tree with thickly-leaved branches growing over the stone wall. Sora knocked on the metal gates of the farm house.
“Grandma Hwajung, are you home? Grandma~”
She called out for a while but there was no reply inside. Sora glanced over to the production staff who were standing next to the cameramen as if asking ‘what’s going on?’
Having the grandma’s name on the map meant the production team had already gotten permission for her appearance. There was no reason for her not to be there so the production staff only shrugged their shoulders.
“Huh? Some grandpa is coming out.”
Minho was looking inside, over the fence. Sora turned her head as he spoke.
An elderly man with thick puffy jowls like a bulldog came out. When the man saw Sora and Minho along with the broadcasting staff he asked curtly, “You guys from the broadcast station?”
“Yes, Grandpa. Does Grandma Hwajung live here, by any chance?”
“I don’t know any wretched grandmas like that.”
The elder spoke with a dissatisfied expression.
“Go back if you don’t have any business here.”
“Grandpa, don’t be like this and please call Grandma Hwajung.”
Sora spoke affably, making an effort to soften his mood.
“Gosh, I said she’s not home!”
The elder turned his back abruptly and tried to go back inside.
Minho’s and Sora’s eyes met. If they returned like this there wouldn’t be any scenes good enough to be used in the broadcast. It didn’t matter if they had to dig up potatoes but they both agreed they would be ruined if only the scene of them digging potatoes aired.
“Sir, wait a sec! Do you have time during lunch today?”
“We’re treating the elders of the town for lunch.”
“Forget it. Something like that–I’m not going.”
Minho recalled his senior officer in the army, who was from Busan and always spoke curtly. People who speak loudly and have fiery personalities tend to be susceptible to sweet talking. Minho thought this elder would be similar so he continued to talk to him.
“Eyy, Grandpa. Why? Did you fight with Grandma?”
“Fighting! She can’t even make a sound if I get angry, that grandma.”
The grandpa snorted. Minho nodded his head in empathy and asked. It seemed like it was okay to ask him the question that they originally came for.
“Did the grandma go somewhere far?”
“Ah, gosh! Why do you keep asking useless things?”
Even though the grandpa was being like that, he kept spilling out his upset feelings.
“I’m usually left in the cold because she’s cooking delicious food for our son and she did that today as well. She even cooks warm food for the dog but gives me the cold shoulder. Either way that wretched old hag, she only loves her children. Gish!”
The production staff and writers laughed as they watched the tough-looking elderly man unexpectedly spew out all sorts of stories.
“How about we treat you to a dish you want to eat.”
“Ah, I said I don’t want to!”
Sora stared at Minho, who was attaching himself to the bulldog-looking grandpa with the utmost affection, with a surprised expression. She had no idea that was the strategy of sucking up to the senior officer that most guys in the army picked up to make their barracks life easier.
Meanwhile, the writer that followed along confirmed the information on the elderly man. His name was Daho Hwang, Grandma Hwajung’s husband. They had a son who ran the mill in town and there was also information on Grandma Hwajung’s frequent visits there.
“Cough. Ahem. So…”
Grandpa Hwang, who had declined a few times, asked carefully after clearing his throat.
“Are there Nokdu pancakes there?”
“You don’t have any?”
They came to learn how to make Japchae but were faced with cooking another dish they had no idea how to cook. But the show must go on. If you’re going to do it, might as well go all the way.
“Of course we have!”
Grandpa Hwang smacked his lips.
“The old hag cooked everything last night and took all of it. It’ll be a killer to have some Nokdu pancakes and rice wine.”
“We’ll prepare it for lunch.”
Grandpa Hwang was pleased thinking about it and made an expression as if he had already had a bowl of rice wine.
Grandpa Hwang who was smacking his lips looked at Minho and asked,
“But did you guys eat breakfast?”
They were on empty stomachs since they had come straight here after waking and washing up. Also Producer Na’s intentions were to have them eat some side dishes here and there as they were hastily cooking. Hunger was what they needed most in order to eat deliciously.
“Come in. Have a spoon of rice.”
Someone said that people in the countryside were known to be generous and wouldn’t let their visitors starve. The bulldog grandpa just looked rough on the outside but unexpectedly felt warm hearted. Minho followed right behind him but Sora and the cameramen hesitated, thinking, ‘Can we do this now?’
Grandpa Hwang bellowed.
“Ah, what’re you doing? Come in quickly!”
Green chili peppers and soybean paste. Sour radish kimchi and salty pickled daikon. And white rice. It didn’t seem like much but it was mouth-watering countryside dining.
It was ordinary food but it had a taste different from other side dishes once you took a bite. This was food that made you automatically appreciate it.
“It’s really delicious. This is all Grandma’s cooking?”
Grandpa Hwang grumbled as a reply.
“Forget it, just eat. But why aren’t they coming inside?”
Grandpa Hwang gestured toward the cameramen who were recording by the door. Sora put on a tender smile and spoke.
“This is a broadcast so they’re pretending not to be here, Grandpa.”
“Is that so? Tsk tsk. They’re working hard. I’m going to go feed the dogs so continue eating. Let me know if you need anything.”
Grandpa Hwang went outside.
Grandpa Hwang gave off the same aura as Dojin, having affection but pretending not to. Sora felt more comfortable around him because of it.
Minho was relieved inside. They came to treat him to lunch but they were unintentionally treated to a meal themselves. But this situation was not bad.
‘Either way we won’t be edited out. But what do we do if Grandma doesn’t come?’
Sora seemed to be worried about that as well because she kept glancing over to the door as she ate.
Minho looked around the room in every nook and corner as he ate. On the way here, he had heard that Grandma Hwajung was renowned in the town of Yulchiri. She had won the Farm Product Cooking King Competition or something. When he thought of that, he had a slight anticipation of ‘Maybe…’
But his hope was faint. There were many sorts of cherished objects and even the items that showed the person’s attachment to them were countless. On top of that he couldn’t go around snooping in other people’s houses every time there was a problem.
So it was better to search and memorize the method of making Japchae.
‘But the way of making it is different in every blog. What should I choose?’
Minho chose the one with the best reaction in the comments and quickly memorized the cooking order with ingredients. He thought to just mix everything and stir fry it if he got confused later, just like in the military.
Sora, who had finished her delicious meal next to him, whispered quietly to Minho.
“Oppa do you know how to make Nokdu pancake?”
Minho surreptitiously added the recipe for Nokdu pancake in the search bar.
“I’ve eaten it a lot during the holidays.”
“Ah! What’re you gonna do?”
Grandpa Hwang was sure to become angry after tasting bad Nokdu pancakes. So it was 100% certain from the moment they invited him that they would end up digging potatoes.
“But don’t you think it’ll be fun to invite Grandpa? He’s definitely a character.”
“Well that’s true.”
“I’ll do this one. You go bring someone who isn’t looking for Nokdu pancakes.”
Even if he didn’t meet Grandma Hwajung, he was going to achieve the desired outcome. It seemed like Grandpa Hwang would still somewhat forgive him as he grumbled if Minho apologized at the end.
Grandpa Hwang opened the door.
“Do you want any more?”
“No, thank you. We ate a lot.”
Minho waved his hands in reply to the grandpa and stood, picking up the small table.
“I’ll do the dishes, Grandpa.”
“Leave it. The old hag will do it when she returns.”
When Minho heard this, he thought he definitely had to do it now.
“No, it’s okay. We ate so well, we should do this much. It’ll only take a minute.”
Minho walked into the kitchen. He looked for the sink, dish soap and gloves and was going to wash the dishes till they squeaked. He put the liquid soap in one dish and scrubbed it to make suds abundantly. He was about to put the suds on the sponge and start doing the dishes.
He saw a firefly-like light coming from somewhere. Minho’s gaze stayed on a shelf above the stove.
A cast iron frying pan with a faint glow!
He felt a wave of emotion coming. Grandma Hwajung had a cherished object as well.
Indeed, people should live kindly. What good luck from doing the dishes.
“Madam Yoon, thank you.”
Minho put his hands on the pan as if entranced.
It might have been because he was stressed out about Grandpa Hwang’s Nokdu pancakes. But the moment he held the cherished object in his hands, Nokdu pancakes popped up in front of his eyes like a vision.
He saw the scene of drinking a bowl of rice wine under the cool shade and then putting a well-cooked yellow Nokdu pancake in his mouth. The image captured Minho and made him hungry again even though he had just stuffed himself with breakfast.
The savory smell, the sound of the sizzling oil, the feeling of crunchiness and chewiness inside that wrapped his teeth and that taste that touched the tip of his tongue as it disappeared, eaten with a sour and salty special soy sauce!
Sseep! His mouth watered.
‘I want to eat it!’
Minho looked around and discovered the ingredients for the Nokdu pancakes that Grandma Hwajung was making last night.
Start with Nokdu that has been soaked in water and ground up. Season with salt, and mix in onions, bracken, and boiled bean sprouts. Add salt, green chives, black pepper powder, cooking wine, garlic and sesame oil to chopped pork. Then mince fermented kimchi and mix in the batter. These are the basic ingredients to the Nokdu pancakes.
Simply fry in a pan to finish it.
‘Shall I fry a bite-size one?’
Unable to resist the allure of Nokdu pancake, Minho turned on the burner on the stove.
“Oppa, what’re you doing?”
Since the person who had gone to do the dishes hadn’t come back for so long, Sora poked her head into the kitchen and then froze in place.
It was because she witnessed Minho swiftly flip something on the frying pan. A savory smell filled the entire kitchen.
“Is that a Nokdu pancake by any chance?”
“You said you didn’t know how to cook a Nokdu pancake.”
“Oh the ingredients were all here. So I just pan fried it.”
Minho felt like he had become a pro at making up stories these days.
Minho put the Nokdu pancake on a dish. He had wanted to make a small one, but the one cooking now was Madam Yoon who was a lavish cook!
Maybe it was because of Grandma Hwajung’s tendencies but the size turned out big enough to cover the whole pan.
“It’s almost like a pizza, and looks delicious…but geez.”
Sora clicked her tongue saying he was some unusual oppa.
“Is she back?”
Grandpa Hwang, who had been feeding the chickens in the yard, opened the door as he smelled the aroma from the kitchen. Minho, carrying the well-cooked Nokdu pancake on a dish, looked at the old man and laughed awkwardly.
“There were ingredients, so I tried frying one.”
“Really? Let’s see.”
Grandpa Hwang took some chopsticks and put a piece in his mouth. He nibbled a bit and made a contented expression.
“It tastes like the one Grandmum makes. You have a good talent. You guys try it.”
As soon as Minho and Sora picked up their chopsticks, the Nokdu pancake disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was the size of a small pizza, but they felt a little sorry when it was gone. They could have eaten more.
“Fry another one. We should give some to the guys outside.”
Minho looked at the frying pan that was still hot. Minho’s hands started moving and frying the Nokdu pancake even before Grandpa Hwang finished his sentence.
The dish finished cooking in an instant.
“Here it is.”
The cameramen gathered and took a bite each. One dish turned into two and two turned into four dishes.
“There’s no time to be like this. Mr. Lee loves Nokdu pancakes.”
Grandpa Hwang went outside and yelled over to the next house.
“Hey Mr. Lee! Come over here!”
There was one thing that Minho hadn’t yet realized–the reason why Grandma Hwajung had gone into town without cooking Nokdu pancakes for Grandpa Hwang.
Object: the generous Madam Hwajung’s cast iron frying pan
Effect: Makes one the master of cooking the specialty Nokdu pancakes that call for rice wine.
Japchae – Japchae is a sweet and savory dish of stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables that is popular in Korean cuisine.
Nolbu – Heungbu and Nolbu is a Korean story written in the late Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). The story of “Heungbu and Nolbu” reportedly took place about 200 years ago, and was passed down through generations. It is now told as a popular bedtime story for Korean children.
Nokdu pancake – or mung bean pancake, is a type of buchimgae that originated in the Pyongan Province. It is made by grinding soaked mung beans, adding vegetables and meat and pan-frying it into a round, flat shape.