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Feel the Salty yet Sweetish

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There is a crab dish on a white plate. With a close look, you’ll notice that the carapace (crab’s back shell) is turned over and filled with yellow roe and guts; the claws and legs are put neatly around the shell. Darkish ganjang (soy sauce) permeates well into the crusted dish. This is a dish over which many Koreans drool. It’s called gejang (seasoned raw crab).
Gejang can also be referred to as gejeot (literally pickled crab) because it is prepared by preserving and fermenting the crab in ganjang. Female crabs caught along the Korean west coast between May and June are full of yellow roe, which is flavorful and sweetish, and thus considered the best ingredient for gejang.
 The dish must be made with live crabs. First, the crabs are scoured with a scrubber and put upside down to drain the water. Then, they are piled up in a container and ganjang is poured in. During this step, garlic and whole red peppers can be used to add some spiciness. These days, cooks also add slices of lemon to get rid of the fish odor. The contents of the container are then left to ripen at room temperature for three days. Sometimes the broth gets cloudy due to the roe and guts that come out of the crabs. Although the basic steps are concluded, from here a painstaking step ensues. The broth is poured out to be boiled, cooled off, and poured into the container again. To make a luscious gejang, the procedure has to be repeated at least three times.
Three types of bases are mainly used to make gejang - myeolchi aekjeot (fermented anchovy sauce), salt, and ganjang. Among these bases, ganjang is the most widely used and is believed to give the dish the best taste. That’s why Koreans often call the dish ganjang gejang, instead of just gejang. If stored with care, the crab dish can be eaten all through the year.

One Crab with Two to Three Bowls of Rice


Now that the ganjang gejang is ready, let’s go on to the next step: how to eat ganjang gejang. First, grab a crab with two hands and open the hard shell. The crab shell is the most important part for gejang lovers as it is filled with scrumptious yellow roe and guts. The shell is called ge-ttakji (carapace) in Korean. Eating ge-ttakji does not literally mean eating the hard shell, but enjoying the mixture of the filling and bap (cooked rice) in the concave side of the shell. Adding a spoonful of bap to the shell creates an indescribable taste as this allows mixing all together at once the soft crab meat, guts, and roe that have stuck to the corners inside the shell. 
But, unfortunately, only one ge-ttakji comes out of a crab. Since it is considered the most delicious part, only the eldest in the family can secure it. The rest of family members have to sate themselves with other crab parts including the legs. Still, the other parts offer an addictive tender flesh. When savoring this flavorful dish, some people become so absorbed in it that they become unaware of how many bowls of bap they have emptied.

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Ge-al Bibimbap for Well-Mannered Diners


However delectable gejang may be, eating ge-ttakji with both hands and sucking on crab legs is by no means a beautiful sight. This is all the more true at a formal dining table that you share with not-that-close acquaintances. Hence, ge-al bibimbap (rice mixed with crab roe and guts) was invented. This dish fits perfectly the eating habits of Koreans who like to mix bap with ingredients of any kind. Since ge-al bibimbap was first introduced, it has become a popular entry on the menu of ganjang gejang restaurants. This special bibimbap is made by taking out the flesh, guts, and roe, mixing them with bap, and adding other ingredients, such as yolk, dried seaweed pieces, and sesame oil. Sometimes, the fatty flesh of the body part can be added. Ge-al bibimbab is also a perfect food for those who, for the fear of the fishy smell exuding onto their hands, only nibble at the flesh with chopsticks.
There is yet another version of gejang - yangnyeom gejang, which is scarily spicy. It is made by cutting a crab into bite-sized pieces, adding an ample amount of red pepper powder and garlic, and mixing them altogether while pouring aekjeot (fermented fish sauce) and the broth of ganjang gejang. One bowl of bap is not enough for this mouthwatering rice stealer - that’s how perfect the harmony of the white crab meat and red pepper powder in this dish is.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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