“I don’t like the idea of good food being intimidating,” says Eun Hee An.
True to this approach, An tells me her chosen breakfast of tarak-juk – a rice porridge, or congee, made with one part milk and two parts dashi, or stock – is “so simple”.
Topped with crabmeat, ginger and spring onion, the dish is at once satisfyingly savoury and light, especially when served with white kimchi as An suggests. And if crab seems like a big ask for a “simple” dish, An says you can use “any type of crab, cooked or raw, leftover or fresh or pre-packed – anything you can easily get.”
Making congee with milk is far from a new idea; in fact, it dates back a number of centuries. Originally, tarak-juk is a dish from the royal courts of Joseon-era Korea which brings together milk, ground glutinous rice and honey or sugar to make a smooth, sweet, delicate porridge.
“It’s the only traditional Korean dish that has milk,” she says. “There was one herd of dairy cattle kept for the royal court and the physicians would make tarak-juk for the king.”
“So it’s king’s congee, which seems pretty special.”
While her recipe is “nothing like tarak-juk you get in Korea”, An says it is the combination of rice and milk that is so comforting.
“When we were writing a menu for [restaurant] Moon Park, my weird boyfriend [Ben Sears] kept asking me about it. We made it and it was surprisingly great.”
An’s culinary career began when she moved to Australia to study French cooking. Once, she says, she never would have imagined making Korean food for a living.
Over time, however, she found herself drawn back to the cuisine of her childhood.
“I grew up cooking with my grannies … I guess the longer you’re away from it the more you grow to appreciate it.”
An previously ran Moon Park in Redfern and Paper Bird in Potts Point alongside Sears. After Paper Bird closed, she launched Moon Mart, an online shop selling a range of Asian condiments, pickles and snacks, in November of last year.
Everything, from staple items such as kimchi to vegan XO sauce and products with limited runs, is made by An in a bakery after hours. Her more experimental products have included different kinds of cheong (fruit preserved in sugar, with a jam-like consistency) or blood orange kosho, a fermented chilli condiment.
Her immediate hopes for Moon Mart are to expand the products on offer but “at some point in the future, a bricks-and-mortar space that could double as a cafe would be nice.”
As for a dream breakfast scenario, An describes one that will resonate with many whose loved ones are in far-flung places: “I think maybe my family is there. I haven’t seen them for a couple of years because of the pandemic.
“And I can cook. They have never really tried my cooking properly; I left for Australia straight after high school. Also my dog Bear is there, but sadly for him he can’t eat, because Korean food is full of garlic and onion!”
Eun Hee An’s tarak-juk with crab
Prep 15 min
Cook 35-40 min
1 ⅓ cup cooked short-grain rice
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
4 cups dashi or light chicken stock, or 4 cups water plus 70ml shirodashi (a seasoning and soup stock concentrate available at Korean or Japanese grocers)
White soy sauce or extra shirodashi to season
Ground white pepper
1 spring onion, finely sliced
3-4 thin slices of ginger, finely julienned
White kimchi (a type of mild kimchi made without chilli, available at Korean or Japanese grocers – or Moon Mart)
Put the cooked rice, milk and dashi in a 20cm saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring to break up any rice that is stuck together, if necessary. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. The tarak-juk should have a thick, porridge-like consistency.
Season the tarak-juk to taste with ground white pepper (a little goes a long way) and a little extra shirodashi, if needed.
Spoon the tarak-juk into two bowls, then top each with half of the crabmeat, finely julienned ginger and finely sliced spring onion. Serve with white kimchi on the side.
Note: If you would like to make dashi from scratch: soak a 12cm piece of kombu in five cups of water overnight, then in the morning, bring kombu and water just to a boil over medium heat. Remove the kombu from the pan and add one cup, or roughly 10g of bonito flakes. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer for 30 seconds and remove from heat. Allow bonito flakes to steep for 10 minutes, then strain.