Love it or hate it. The fast-fermented soybean paste is notorious for its stink but also a widely-known health food. The strong, pungent odour is the result of simple, brief fermentation process. The more popular dwenjang, fermented soybean paste, usually takes a lot longer to produce and can be preserved for longer period of time.
A theory suggests that the name originated from Cheong Dynasty as it is believed that the recipe came from China. The ingredient and fermentation process of cheonggukjang is very similar to that of Japanese natto. However, while natto is generally consumed raw, cheonggukjang is usually boiled into a stew, worsening the smell.
Some westerners refer to the stew as “dead body soup,” hinting the intensity of stinkiness. Urban legend says that a Korean student studying abroad had made himself some cheonggukjang soup and the local police broke into his home after a call from a neighbour reporting “smell of rotting dead bodies.”
Making of cheonggukjang doesn’t seem too complicated. Soak and boil soybeans. Cover with hay. Leave in room temperature for 2~3 days. The biggest problem should be the lingering odour produced as the beans go through fermentation process. One would be very brave to try this at home.
일미식당 in Jongno serves homemade meals of comfort Korean food. Cheonggukjang here is not too overwhelming and is full of goodness. The bottomless side dishes will make you ask for more.
일미식당 Ilmi Sikdang
428 Samil-daero, Nakwon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul