In Korean there’s a word for people who expect everything to be done for them, gong ju. When Ji-hey Yang was younger, that’s how everyone thought about her. She was a beauty queen, and no one expected her future would end up as it has.
Yang is the owner of Mirac, a Korean restaurant in Eastwood, in Sydney’s north. While many Korean restaurants in this city are set up like fast-food restaurants – they import everything pre-made to sell at low prices to Korean international students – Mirac is more like a home kitchen. Almost everything is made onsite and prepped daily by Yang, her chef or her daughter Yoo-lee Yang, including the side dishes.
It’s been this way for years. Opening about 20 years ago, Mirac was one of the first Korean businesses in a now Korean-dominated suburb. Yang wasn’t involved back then though, only buying the business a few years ago. Since then, she’s changed a lot of the menu, but kept two dishes: lamb and perilla stew, and agwi-jjim – braised monkfish. Mirac is one of the only restaurants in Sydney that serves either dish (Eunhasu and Myeong Dong are others).
Lamb isn’t traditionally a common ingredient in Korea, as it’s mostly considered a smelly meat that’s used more for its nutritional values than for its flavour. That’s the idea with this stew – it’s like the Korean equivalent of pea-and-ham soup or an earthy dhal.
These days it’s popularly eaten after games by footballers and baseballers. Yang claims the South Korean football team ate the Mirac version after they lost in the 2015 Asian Cup. “Because it would have been chaos if the team came here, I had to cook the stew for 80 people in a huge pot and take it over to the hotel,” she says.
Agwi-jjim was once a rarity in Korea, too. “In the olden days it was cooked only on special occasions. It was expensive, but there was also a lot of labour in preparing it,” says Yang. Now that Korea’s economy is flourishing it’s a lot more common. (Few people eat monkfish in Australia because it is a northern hemisphere fish; Yang imports it frozen.)
The fish texture is lobster-like but the flavour is fishier. Its more pungent characteristics are offset by being braised in a classically Korean red sauce – the semi-spicy, slightly less sweet and garlicky style that’s used for many braised dishes.
The rest of the menu is padded out by Yang’s recipes, mostly what you’d find in other Korean restaurants, tending towards the traditional. “I had no idea I would be what I am now,” says Yang. “My family are very proud of me but they're shocked. They always imagined me marrying a rich person and living like a princess, a gong ju, someone who is always being served not serving people.”
Disclaimer: the owner of Mirac is a close family friend of the family of Broadsheet photographer Kimberley Low.
118 Rowe Street, Eastwood
(02) 9804 0011
Mon to Sun 11am–12am
This is another edition of Broadsheet's Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney's different cultural communities. Read more here.
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