East Bay ChowDinner Report - Kang Tong Degi
Thank you everyone for showing up and having a great time through the chaos. A few fellow chowhounders met up at Kang Tong Degi, a non descript Korean bar/eatery known as a pojangmacha. Although we were supposed to get the larger table to fit 14 people, a party of 20 usurped the table, so we had to get very comfortable with one significantly smaller.
Overall the experience was great, although frenzied. The service was adequate but with 2 large parties and only 1 waiter, at times a little trying.
We started off with the regular dinner special of the Korean bacon, beef tenderloin, beef sirloin, and beef prime cut grilled. The highlight of the whole dinner I think was definitely the Korean bacon. It was best eaten still soft and not crispy unlike American bacon. You can either dip it into two sauces, a sesame seed oil and salt mixture or a spicy almost salsa like mixture, or you can wrap it in small flat noodles with kochujang (bean paste). The different beef cuts were indistinguishable to each other.
Here is a quick lowdown of the other dishes that was ordered.
Al Tang (Fish Egg Soup) - I didn't really have much of this though the broth seemed to be fairly tasty.
Duk Bokki (spicy rice cake) - This is a pojangmacha staple. Again, I didn't have much of this so someone else please lay in.
Nakji Bokkum (spicy fried octopus) - Didn't have any of this.
Tak Dong Chib (chicken gizzards) - slightly chewy but also crunchy at the same time. I didn't think it had much flavor but it wasn't bad either.
Chok Bal (Pork hocks) - Again, not my favorite. I don't have much of a comment for this.
Bundaegi (Spicy Chrysalis Soup) - Definitely the most interesting dish of the evening. It was the undeveloped butterfly larvae in a soup. Someone described it as eating very musty sleeping bag. It definitely is an acquired taste to like this dish.
On the drink side we had beer, regular soju, yogurt soju (delicious but dangerous), bek seju (oak wine), and Bokbunja (raspberry wine).
Again, the highlight was the atmosphere, the bacon, and the people. The lowlight was the Chrysalis soup and the logistics of serving 14 people in a table for 10.
Total price came out to $23 a person.
Here are some pics of the place.
Kang Tong Degi
3702 Telegraph Ave.
Spicy rice cake was yummy. Lots of fire red sauce that looked like 100% pureed chilies.
Gizzards had a nice marinade, but I was surprised that they were served cold. The flavor was like chicken livers, the texture was like the gristle you trim off your pork chop.
Octopus: Spicy. Chewy.
Chrysalis soup. Outside my comfort zone. Someone said that it squirted when you bit into it. I found the smell ok, but I did not actually put any in my mouth.
Pork belly was yummy, was best when cooked quite done.
Rice paper squares to wrap stuff in: Eugene said that they were best grilled, but when I tried they stuck like glue. They were pre-steamed so that my have been the difficulty. Steam or grill, but not both.
Panchan: ok, but I wished for more variety. There were only five or six: vinegared daikon, crispy anchovies, bean sprouts, eggplant, and kimchee.
The grills: what's up with the slices of potato? They take forever to cook. The grilled onions, were well browned and soaked in meaty essence and got promply claimed.
The best part: the very crispy bits cracklings that stuck to the grills.
First off, kudos to Hoon for organizing this, ordering and helping out with the grilling. Sorry to hear you didn't get much of the other non-grill dishes. Then again, you weren't missing out on a whole lot IMO..... =-D
I forgot to mention to Louise that the way to grill the rice paper wrappers was to let them sit for a little and cool off, as well as to dip them in the oil/salt mixture before putting them on the grill. Considering the cramped space we were in, it wasn't worth the time or effort to grill them.
Hope everyone had fun in spite of the cramped quarters. KTD was nice enough to comp us some additional dishes and alcohol. Hope everyone had enough to drink.....heh heh.
re: Eugene Park
Ah, hah. Cooling off and oil. Makes sense, when you make fried rice, you don't use fresh hot rice, but leftover cold stuff. I assumed the oil, salt, and pepper were a dipping sauce which did seem a little strange, but I just chalked it up to unfamiliarity with the cuisine.
And thank you to Hoon for arranging this chowdinner.
I agree with your assessment, although I think the I preferred the slightly crisper bacon from the second batch. I thought the drinks were fun and good. No one has mentioned that they don't serve water -- what appeared at first glance to be water was actually a weak iced tea made from barley, which was delicious and very refreshing with the spicy food.
What was most intriguing to me, as a "gringo" was the whole atmosphere and culture of the pojangmacha. Crimson explained that in Korea, pojangmacha are tents that serve this style of food and drink. The interior of Kang Tong Degi is made up of booths of various sizes roofed over with corregated metal to give the feeling of being a series of little shacks. The walls of the booths are completely covered in paper with Korean writing on them -- perhaps someone who reads Korean can tell me if the walls actually told a story (or stories) or whether it was just random words.
At any rate, it was more than dinner, it was a look into an unfamiliar (to me) aspect of food culture, and it was fascinating.
BTW, this place is literally nondescript: there was no signage outside in English, and the windows are papered over so you can't tell from outside what kind of business it is. I wasn't even sure it was the right place until I got inside and saw the other hounds, as it looks from the outside like it might be a rather unsavory place (a seedy bar, a gang hangout, etc.).
re: Ruth Lafler
Since I was sitting right next to the wall, I did peruse the wallpaper. It's actually about a 50-50 mixture of Korean & Chinese. I know about 20 or so Chinese characters at the moment, so couldn't piece together whether there was any theme or coherence to the writing. The Korean didn't make a whole lot of sense because it was just a couple words at a time, then Chinese, then Korean, then Chinese, etc.
First thanks to Hoon for organizing. I live on Telegraph Av and have passed by this place many times and never thought it was an eating place!!! (Even when I arrived I was not sure due to lack of any signs in english...)
The food, as was explained to us, is supposed to complement the drinking (the table next door was definitely complementing a lot!)So do not expect gourmet food. This was more like "street" food.
For the grill, the meat was a bit tough but the bacon was nice and crispy.
Al Tang (Fish Egg Soup) was for me one of the best dishes. I had a small taste but it was just salty and spicy enough.
Duk Bokki (spicy rice cake) - did not have any but it looked quite spicy. was it?
Nakji Bokkum (spicy fried octopus) - very chewy!!!.
Tak Dong Chib (chicken gizzards) - I liked this dish because of the very chewy texture. the taste was somewhat muted.
Chok Bal (Pork hocks) - I love pork hocks and these were a different take than I am used to (in vinegar usually).
Bundaegi (Spicy Chrysalis Soup) - What can one say about larvae in broth that has not been said before? I suggest we let the poor butterflies be born in peace and concentrate on eating something with more substance. Not one of my favorite dishes though I admit I only ate one little fat one...
The company was great and we met several new hounds. Welcome to the group!
Looking forward to future visits to other Telegraph sites.
Here's the photo I took of the outside a couple weeks ago when I was down the street at Lee's. Might help someone find it in the future.
I tried the bacon cooked "well" and also just barely done, and suprisingly, I preferred the latter. I also liked the beef that was cut into thick batons better than the thin-shaved varieety, whatever either might be. Mostly because it could take a sear without cooking all the way through. One of the surprises for me was that the meats were plain and unmarinated, just sprinkled with salt and pepper. But I did like the sesame oil poured over salt and pepper as a condiment, as well as the very spicey, salsa-like dipping sauce.
Here's an old thread on the place and duk bo sam -
The panchan were only fair, but our server had no problem bringing more out when requested. The jap chae was decent, and the julienne of daikon was quite refreshing.
Here's the picture of the chrysalis soup, after it had made its way about half-way round the table. The frame on the right is overexposed from the flash, but gives a better sense of what these cocoons look like, and the one on the left is the same bowl without flash.
Surprised there was so much left in the bowl. (g) When I first peered over the rim, I couldn't help but think of cigarette butts in a watery ash tray. The aroma reminded me of dried leaves too and had that same musty taste on the palate. Can anyone tell us if this was a bad, average or good example of chrysalides?
Many thanks to Louise for tending the fire on our end of the table. And an even bigger thanks to Hoon for putting this together and sharing this slice of Korean cuisine with us.