Naengi – A Mysterious Herb

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I’ve tasted a new flavor this winter. Eun Jeong was making dinner and asked me to go to the store to get some naengi 냉이. I’d never heard of it before nor noticed it at the store.

“It only comes in winter,” Eun Jeong said, “It’s on the fields after all the vegetables are gone.”

I went to the store, and there was a sign that said “Naengi” among other signs above masses of different greens. The sign was no help in indicating which one was which. I asked the vegetable lady, and she showed me.

I truly had never seen these before.

They’re ugly little bracken with small leaves and white roots.

Eun Jeong washed them thoroughly and added them to some Doenjang Jjigae. They totally changed the flavor. How to describe it?

Imagine walking in the country and smelling the smoke coming out of a fireplace during a crisp winter morning. That’s what Naengi tastes like. It’s smoky and peppery. It tastes like winter.

Researching Naengi on the web, in dictionaries, and in cookbooks, I’ve found that it belongs in the capsella family. It’s commonly translated as “Shepherd’s Purse.” Yet the Naengi we’re eating doesn’t quite look like the pictures on the Internet.

I’m no horticulturalist, but check out these pictures and help me out here. Here is a picture of Shepherd’s Purse from Down Garden Services.

The bottom picture looks like the plant we have been eating. Notice between the two that they look similar but are distinctly different. My guess is that it is in the capsella genus but isn’t specifically capsella bursa-pastoris, which is Shepherd’s Purse. Either that or the leaves on the picture at the bottom look more like the picture at the top when it becomes older.

If this is so then, yes, I have seen this before. It’s all over the world in your average back yard. Take a look outside.


Author: ZenKimchi

Joe McPherson founded ZenKimchi in 2004. He has been featured and sourced in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN, KBS, MBC, SBS, Le Figaro, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, The Chosun Weekly, and other Korean and international media. He has consulted for "Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain," The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, the PBS documentary series “Kimchi Chronicles,” and other projects in the UK, Canadan, and Australia featuring celebrity chefs such as Gizzi Erskine and Gary Mehigan. Mr. McPherson has written for multiple Korean and international publications, including SEOUL Magazine, JoongAng Daily, The Korea Herald, Newsweek Korea and wrote the feature article for U.S. National publication Plate magazine’s all-Korean food issue. He has acted as dining editor for 10 Magazine and was on the judging panel for Korea for the Miele Guide. He spoke at TEDx Seoul on Korean food globalization, at TED Worldwide Talent Search on the rise of Korean cuisine, and in New York City on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. The company ZenKimchi International organizes food tours for tourists and corporations and acts as a media liaison for foreign and Korean media and local restaurants and producers.

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  • http://orientem.blogspot.com/ The Western Confucian

    Thanks for the informative post. I had naengi for the first time in my tenth year in Korea and loved it.

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ ZenKimchi

    Thanks! I read your site regularly and am thrilled you stopped by.

  • Avonleigh

    That’s the stuff that we pull and think that it’s a weed.Kinda looks like a dandelion in the picture.You didn’t put how to cook it.

  • Pingback: 10 Ways to Survive a Korean Winter | ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal()

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