Sunday, November 25, 2007


I learned about doraji last weekend when I was at my parents' place.

This is the Chinese bellflower plant--also called doraji--in late fall. Wikipedia has a good entry on it and its confusing etymology. The vast majority of people keep it only as a decorative flower. But Koreans have a secret use for it.

We dig up the flower and eat the root. These particular roots have been growing for about 5 years.

It's a lot of work. My dad was given the job of scraping them. It took him about an hour.

Then you soak them for a few hours.

Then you cook briefly and season in a typically Korean way.

I've seen this dish before. I just never realized where it came from. It really gives you an appreciation for how long it takes to make certain things. It took 5 years for the root to grow. Then all day to prepare it from start to finish. And this is a side dish. And one you don't even eat very much of.

As for why to eat it. Well, it has a distinctive taste, but it isn't particularly pleasurable. The Chinese use it as medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties, but I can't imagine that's how it first got eaten. I imagine that it first got eaten because it was winter and there was nothing else to do but dig up and eat the roots of anything with a substantial root.

I think that this might be the first time I have gotten some sense of a greater food tradition, distinguished from childhood food memories. I enjoy eating it because my grandmother planted the first doraji plants in the garden and because of all the time and care that went into its preparation. And because that's just what Korean people eat, even though it probably seems strange to eat the root of this very nice flower.


C(h)ristine said...

I love doraji--my parents have been growing it in their home for years (and have now given me seeds to pass on that tradition). It is a beautiful secret to know that they have a use beyond their beautiful flowers.

David said...

That's great that you're carrying it on. I hope growing doraji is at least one tradition that gets passed to the next generation.

R said...

i like doraji too. but I can't find anywhere to sell the root, so i could plant it myself. by the way, can i plant them in a big pot? or i have to plant them on the ground?