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Sep 20, 2007 08:02 PM

Korean food discussion [split from the Pennsylvania board]

[The beginning of the thread can be found here, on Pennsylvania: -- The Chowhound Team


The Koreans I've talked to seem to measure a restaurant's quality by its bbq; is that your primary measure too, Mr_Pickles? I've never had the bbq at Miran because I was warned against it by a Korean but I really like their dol sot bibimbap. Yeah, the panchan was a small variety, and the hot sauce wasn't quite hot enough for my taste. But I love the crispy rice and vegetables in the bibimbap. It didn't have a strong seaweed flavor--that's actually a plus for me, I don't like super strong sea tastes. Anyway it's a close solution for my Korean food cravings, often it isn't practical to go all the way to the NE or the burbs.

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  1. Hopefully there's more variety in the area to judge Korean food by BBQ dish alone. And Korean BBQ done right should have individual wooden (or charcoal) grill per table (in korean it's called 'soot-bul kalbi', literally translated 'wooden ash bbq'). Usually there isn't a place that does everything great, so if you go to Flushing or Fort Lee, you'll see a lot of places that specialize in certain dishes (like Soon Du Bu, BBQ, Hae Jang Gook, Gom Tang, etc). I'd say good Korean food is somewhere that offers good, authentic flavor and element with fresh ingredient. Often you'll find restaurants that miss out on the authentic flavor/element or use crappy ingredient. For example, Bibimbap should not have seaweed flavor; rather, it should have gosari (the brown, chewey fern) and doraji (the white root vegetable). Man, I feel like Korean cuisine has so much to offer for healthy alternative (low-calorie, vegetarian, low-fat), but not much of it has been "evangelized" as much as other Asian cuisines like Japanese or Thai.

    1. I don't like both Korean BBQ (specifically bul go gi and kal bi) and bi bim bap. For me, these are the equivalent of getting General Tso's chicken at a Chinese restaurant and thinking that you're getting "authentic" Chinese cuisine. I evaluate Korean restaurants based on a very specific set of dishes:

      1. The kimchi (both breadth of types as well as the flavor)
      2. The jigae items on the menu (daeng jang jigae, al jigae, kimchi jigae, saeng tae jigae, and soon doo boo jigae are what I'm looking for)
      3. Oh jing uh bokum / kimchi jaeyuk bokum / nak ji bokum
      4. Yook gae jang
      5. Duk man doo gook
      6. Sulrong tang
      7. Kimchi bokum bap
      8. Maewoon kalbi tang
      9. Mul naeng myun (generally summertime only)
      10. Hae mool pajun.

      I also prefer Korean restaurants that have menus in Korean only. I realize this doesn't help people who can't read Korean, but it's a convenient way to filter out places that are too Western.

      22 Replies
      1. re: Mr_Pickles

        For clarity, in your response to the question above by Dib "is [Korean bbq] your primary measure [for a restaurant]" you stated:

        "I don't like both Korean BBQ (specifically bul go gi and kal bi) and bi bim bap". and "For me, these are the equivalent of getting General Tso's chicken at a Chinese restaurant and thinking that you're getting "authentic" Chinese cuisine."

        So you are saying that you do not like Korean bbq because of how it TASTES or only because you don't consider it to be "authentic"?


        1. re: Chinon00

          Korean BBQ is pretty authentic (as it is enjoyed everywhere in Korea). If you want to be extremely picky the traditional cut of the short ribs (kalbi) is different. They thinly slice a chunk of short ribs that's cut along the bone, rather than what you usually see in America (across bones, so you see little pieces of bone along the bottom). In fact this kind of cut is called "L.A. Kalbi" in Korea. I think it's because how the butchers butchers short ribs in Korea and USA.

          Personally, I LOVE Korean BBQ. Wrap the meat in lettuce or sesame leaves with a little bit of julienned onions...then drink some soju with it...finish the whole meal with Mul Naeng Myun...oh good.

          1. re: baekster

            Where's your favorite bbq place, baekster? And sesame leaves--are those the same as shiso?

            1. re: Dib

              I believe that sesame leaves are a variety of shiso, and both have very similar flavors. I have never had shiso before, so I have no idea how similar the flavor is

              1. re: Dib

                Similar to shiso. Haven't really ventured out around here in Philadelphia Area, but there are good places in K-Town/Block in Manhattan and in Flushing on Northern Blvd...but that's going off the topic. If you can ask around, ask around to see if there are places that offer charcoal or wooden grill ("soot bool"). It's a definitely a different experience if you've never been.

                1. re: Dib

                  Shiso and Korean sesame (deulkkae or just the leaves kkaennip) are the same plant, which is not really sesame but perilla which is part of the mint family. Here in the states it is sometimes called Korean mint.

                2. re: baekster

                  Or as an alternative to soju (which not everyone is crazy about), try bekseju which is a little sweeter with a hint of ginseng. Great stuff.

                3. re: Chinon00

                  I simply don't like Korean BBQ and bi bim bap for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I just don't like how they taste. As for authenticity, sure, these are classic dishes of Korean cuisine, BUT I find that they are "over ordered" in general and cause people to ignore other dishes that are much more flavorful and representative of what makes Korean cuisine interesting. Finally, these are also dishes that are very prone to being prepared incorrectly.

                  1. re: Mr_Pickles

                    I'm sure that you could be a bit more specific about what you don't like about "how they taste"? (I mean, this is a "foodie" website)

                    Also, if it WERE prepared correctly in your eyes, would you then be more likely or less likely to enjoy it since you don't like "how they taste"?

                    And finally if it weren't "over ordered" and instead was as underappreciated as say some other Korean dishes do you think you'd have the same opinion of it?


                    1. re: Chinon00

                      If the dishes were prepared correctly AND if they weren't over-ordered, I STILL would have the same opinion.

                      I find that the bi bim bap flavor combination just doesn't work for me; there are too many things going on in the bowl for me. I also don't like ko na mul and gosari, both of which are key ingredients. So what I end up tasting is a number of the ingredients thrown together that don't really work well together unless a prodigious amount of go chu jang and sesame oil are added. And then, it just ends up tasting like a mixture of things with weird textures that are flavored primarily by hot bean paste and sesame. As for Korean BBQ, the combination of the cut of beef (beef short ribs for galbi and thinly sliced sirloin for bulgogi) with the sweet & salty marinade over high heat, creates a flavor that I don't like.

                      Anyway, this has gotten way off topic. I believe the original poster was looking for places that serve good soon doo boo jigae. And because the original poster specifically mentioned that dish, I went on a limb and assumed that s/he was more interested in many of the less well-known Korean dishes.

                4. re: Mr_Pickles

                  Korean BBQ....not authentic??? I better let my mom know that. You know, the 60yr old Korean born, rasied, lived her whole damn life in Korea woman. She keeps telling me how good/authentic the BBQ is at the place we go to in Olney (thanks to many for correcting....not Cheltenham) is. Silly Korean!

                  1. re: Mr_Pickles

                    Wow, this is great. I've never gotten anyone to be so detailed on what exactly they like about Korean food, but then again, I never asked on Chowhound. When I asked about Miran, my source screwed up her face and declared that the kalbi was too sweet and didn't taste right, and that one had to go up the NE for good bbq.

                    Any discussion of ethnic food eventually gets into the taste/authenticity duality. I'm going to use Chinese food examples, because that's what I know. General Tso's has a complicated history, but basically it was created in America for Western tastes so I consider it inauthentic...and in my personal opinion, unappetizing. Then there are the authentic but unappetizing dishes, like that godawful shrimp/mayonnaise/maraschino/sprinkles dish that I was convinced must have been some American restauranteur's idea of Chinese food until I saw it served in central Taiwan. And sometimes, you can get inauthentic but tasty dishes...lemon chicken can be quite good if done simply and without sweeteners (I'm thinking specifically of the rendition I had at some Chinese restaurant here in Philly but not in Chinatown, but I can't remember the name).

                    Then there's the issue of an authentic dish that is cooked for American taste, heat toned down, spice variety simplified, etc., but that depends on the individual restaurant. That seems to be the issue with the Korean places in center city, from what I can tell. And I know what you're saying about the menus; I often gauge a Chinese restaurant's intended audience by whether they provide a Chinese language menu.

                    So, Mr_Pickles - do you consider bulgogi, kalbi, and bibimbap inauthentic, unappetizing, toned down, or a combination?

                    1. re: Dib

                      A new rage for young'uns in Japan is now American-style Teriyaki and Teriyaki burgers - straight from the States.

                      1. re: Dib

                        Bulgogi, Kalbi, bibimbap are crowd-pleasers. Maybe that's what he's going for? BTW, with some recent series of Korean Dramas, traditional royal meals got popular at one point in Korea:

                        As you can see, Korean food differs from other cuisine of serving one dish at a time. And as my mother used to tell me at home, for dinner, you have to have at least 3 side dishes, one soup/stew (either gook---light broth---or jji-gae---thicker broth). But the rule deviates a lot with different special occasions.

                        And yes, this post has gotten way out of topic. I'm done here.

                      2. re: Mr_Pickles

                        If you don't mind I think that it might be helpful to one or two of us if just a couple of the dishes that you've mentioned above could be described using some English? Generally when dishes that we enjoy are mentioned here (whether they be French, Italian, etc), we can all grasp to some degree what the meal actually consists of.


                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Sure. If you are new to Korean cuisine, here are some things you should try out:

                          Kalbi--sweet, soy sauce/onion/garlic based marinated short ribs. It's by far the most well-known dish, synonymous with Korean BBQ. The way to eat this dish is make a little wrap with the green they give you.

                          If you're eating Kalbi, finish the meal off with Naeng-Myun---cold buckweat noodle either served in icy beef broth with a touch of mustard oil OR it's served in a spicy chilly sauce. Both variety comes with picked daikon, meat, egg,

                          Bibimbop--literally translated, "mixed rice", comes with an array of colorful sauteed, blanched, seasoned vegetables, including carrots, bean sprouts, etc. with rice in one bowl. If you get "dol-sot" version you get the dish in a sizzling stone pot. The dish is topped with hot chilli paste, beef, and egg.

                          Bulgogi--literally translated, "fire meat". It's thinly sliced rib eye meat that's marinated with sweet soysauce based marinade. The marinade is generally milder and less sweet than that of Kalbi.

                          Pork Bulgogi/Je Yook---pork bbq with chilli paste based marinade, often comes with sliced onions to be cooked together with the meat

                          Dak Gal bi---Marinated chicken breast with a chilli paste based marinade. At a place that specializes this dish, they will first cook the chicken in the middle of the table then make fried rice on the same griddle/pan that cooked the chicken absorbing the sauce and good juices.

                          Kim Chi Jji Gae---spicy fermented cabage (kimchi---the staple Korean picked item) based soup often cooked with pork.

                          Soon Du Bu Jji Gae---spicy, soft-tofu (it's really silky, falling apart soft) stew. It is often made with chopped pork or mixed seafood (whole shrimp, mussels, clam) as the protein and a little bit chopped up kimchi for flavor. However, the variety of it has developed in modern Korean cuisine due to its popularity.

                          Kal-bi Tang---Short-rib based stew with vermicilli noodles

                          Gom Tang or Sul Rung Tang---I am hazy on the differences but they are both beef-bone based stew that's cooked for really long time to the point of being almost milky...if you are in Fort Lee or Manhattan, try Gam Mi Ok...which has pretty much the perfect version of this's even famous in Korea.

                          Dwen Jang Jji Gae--Stew with fermented bean paste. It's more pungent concentrated stew of Korean miso (korean miso is cultured for longer period of time producing more pungent flavor). It's usually prepared with green squash, tofu, in the simplest form. Sometimes a fancier kind may have clams (in the US, I've seen it with littleneck clams).

                          Pa-Jeon---Scallion pancake...good places in Korea mix in mixture of seasoned pork and various chopped up oyster, clam meat. I haven't had a good one in the US (my hometown in Korea is really famous for this dish even in it's hard to top that anywhere).

                          In Korean cuisine, "jji-gae" is stew-like thick broth with concentrated flavor, "gook" refers to milder broth without cooking for longer than say 1 hour, "tang" is something that's been cooked for a long time to get flavor from bones or some poultry and meat (overnight or pressure cooked), "jjim" is braised or steamed protein in low heat, "myun" is any form of noodle.

                          1. re: baekster

                            Gom Tang is made from the beef tail bone (ox tail) and Sul Rung Tang is made from pretty much standard soup bones.
                            Both are very good.

                            1. re: hannaone


                              An article that talks about the differences between Gom Tang and Sul Rung Tang (it's in Korean though).

                              Quick Translationo: Gom Tang uses lean cuts of meat (like shank, flank and brisket) and bones around the area instead of other parts of the cow such as the head bones, etc. hannaone, i think you're thinking of ggori Gom Tang, which uses the tail bone. Gom tang and sul rung tang are also different in the cooking method: sul rung tang is often cooked over 24 hours to the point that bones disintegrate, whereas gom tang is not cooked for too long to give it a lighter flavor (similar to Kal Bi Tang).

                              1. re: baekster

                                Your'e right. I usually eat ggori gom tang and had forgotten that there were other types, like a version I mistakenly ordered in Seattle that came with scalded tripe instead of ox tail.
                                My wife makes sul rung tong from the soup bones available from the meat cutters which includes neck, back, and leg bones. The huge stock pot she uses stays on the stove for at least two days before she says the soup is ready to eat.

                            2. re: baekster

                              Had Bibimbop tonight. I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you.

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                Cool. Yes, bibimbop is very popular and dependable. :) I glad you enjoyed it. Where did you go? (I haven't tried any Korean place in Philly area).

                            3. re: Chinon00

                              A few things to add to the list to try -
                              Jap Jae (also spelled chop che, chap chae, or something similar), a semi transparent vermicelli made from sweet potato starch stir fried with meat (usually the same as beef bulgogi) and usually spinach, shredded carrot, onion, and scallion or spring onion, but may be made with other vegetables.

                              Kimchi Bokum Bop - Spicy fried rice made with sour kimchi (a spicy napa cabbage), pork, and onion.

                              Ojingo bokum - a spicy Squid dish stir fried with assorted vegetables.

                              Ddeok bo ki (many spelling variations) - Ddeok, a cylindrical rice cake (sometimes called a "thick rice noodle") is stir fried with fish cake, the same vermicelli used for Jap Jae, onion, and a Korean sausage similar to a frank or hot dog in a spicy sauce.

                              Korean cuisine has so much to offer.

                          2. if you like korean bbq, you should get samgyupsal instead of kalbi.

                            I'm all about the pork and frying the garlic cloves in the pork fat.....oh god....and then grilling extra old (sour) kimchi on the grill after all the pork is gone.

                            seriously, is there a better combination than pork and sour kimchi? If there is, then please tell me

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bitsubeats

                              No. There is NOT anything better than pork and sour kimchee...but you could throw some rice cakes in there and I would not be upset. But that's textural...

                            2. Is banchan typically included in with the meat and rice when eating Korean bbq?


                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Chinon00

                                yup its always included, and you can ask for seconds

                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                  No, I mean when eating do you place the bachan inside the lettuce with the meat, and rice and eat.


                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    It's up to you. :) Some do and some doesn't. I think it's better not to put the banchan in the lettuce cause it covers up the taste of meat. But i think not wrapping the meat in the green is a miss-out on the experience.

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      Just the meat, some fresh raw garlic, Ssamjang (the spicy sauce meant for Ssam - leaf wrapped), and a slice of chili pepper or jalapeno is just about perfect.
                                      There are no hard and fast rules about what to put into your wrap. Whatever tastes good works.

                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                        nope, but people won't kill you if you do. Our family eats ssam like this:

                                        meat, gochujang mixed with daengjang, garlic (raw or cooked), julienned spicy green onions, piece of korean watercress, sesame leaf, and lastly korean soft lettuce

                                  2. Going back to the original question, I judge a Korean restaurant on the quality of the mandu. Simple, yes, but very important. Whether they are fried or steamed or both the question I always ask myself is: do they taste like my mom's? My mom was straight over from Korea so I consider her cooking from my youth to be the absolute pinnacle of Korean cuisine. But that's just my own personal nostalgia talking.

                                    Mandu can be a tricky thing. It can't have tough edges. The skin needs to be thin, almost translucent. If it's fried it needs to have just enough color. If it's in soup (mandu kook) it can't be falling apart. Cooks who have the mad mandu skillz usually excel at everything else on the menu, at least in my experience.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: PikaPikaChick

                                      Interesting. I think Mandu (filled dumplings---similar to Gyoza if you know Japanese food) is heavily influenced by Chinese food. Personally, other than Kimchi Mandu, I prefer Chinese dumplings---there are just more varieties in fillings and wrapping. :) When I was in Korea for the last time, "North Korean" food was popular (which includes Mandu, Naeng Myun, Soon Dae, etc). Those mandus were pretty good (it had quail meat). But I would pick Bibimbob as more of a Korean food than Mandu since it represents the variety of vegetables and color that go into a dish and its representation.

                                      1. re: baekster

                                        In Portland, OR, there is a place called Chinese Delicacy (Chinese: Yi Bin Xiang). The menus have both Chinese and Hangul. They serve foods that ethnic Koreans eat in China. So they have some interesting lamb dumplings (instead of pork), odd varieties of kim-chi. Very interesting place.

                                        1. re: HungWeiLo

                                          I find the best mandu to be pan-fried...then steamed.