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Aug 31, 2010 07:31 PM

how spicy is Korean food s'posed to be?

All this talk about truly spicy thai food made me think about a meal I had last week at Ohgane.

The "spicy pork" lunch special was delicious (and the pachan, a joy). But I was disappointed with the chili pepper factor. It was barely spicy. So I'm wondering - is that just the preparation for foreigners? Or is that the cultural norm?

Any thoughts?

3915 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611

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  1. this topic is better suited for the general chowhound board, unless you're talking about the spice variables of bay area specific restaurants.

    i had some incendiary dishes in korea, but it has been years. in general i don't think of korean food as being nearly as spicy as people suppose. depends on the cook, the region, the dish, etc.

    1. Fair enough, my "August" iner hounder.

      So really, my question is:
      Can anyone recommend a Korean resto that uses more chilis in the cooking and ups the ante on the level of "picante" in the food?

      6 Replies
      1. re: escargot3

        Yep, To Hyang (at 2nd & Geary, in San Francisco) comes to mind. I usually order "spicy" at most restaurants, but here I have to get "medium" or even "mild." One of the waitresses told me when she saw me burning up that her aunt just brought back hot peppers from Korea -- spicier than anything you can find here. One good dish is the dak dori tang (spicy chicken stew).

        You will feel the heat in some of the panchan too.

        To Hyang
        3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

        1. re: Radical347

          That supports what i've read, that Korean-Americans have adapted to using less spicy chiles. So while a restaurant could add more chiles to please a customer who wanted hotter food, it might throw off the flavor.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Where did you read that?

            The spiciness of dishes both here and in Korea is regional and family specific in nature. On the average, you don't get super spicy without asking for it special in a restaurant around here.

            1. re: Jumbo_Jack

              I think I read that in Hisoo Shin Hepinstall's "Growing up in a Korean Kitchen," though it might have been in a Jonathan Gold article. The claim was that the chile products sold in American Korean grocery stores are milder than the ones sold in Korea.

              Korean Kitchen
              4185 Cushing Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94538

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I had heard that and believed it until recently, when I grabbed a box of gochujang without checking the "fieriness scale" printed on the box. I used the same amount I always use in tofu stew and rendered the entire pot almost inedible.

                No lover of spicy foods I know--Korean, Mexican, Thai--has tasted the paste and not wondered what was wrong with it, it's that spicy. And yet it came in the same red flip top box all the other gochujang comes in.

                I can take a picture of the box if other 'hounds feel like they need to be packing their own chili paste at Bay Area Korean joints.

                1. re: Pei

                  i'd like to see a picture of that gochujang. the package i had before my current one was significantly hotter than most of the others. the one i have now is from pulmuone, and is moderately hot and sweet. the last one was a brand i've never used before, and when i did a spoon taste test i was surprised at the heat level. it also had unusual ingredients, like ground dried anchovies. the one i have now lists red pepper, what flour, soybean, salt, molasses.

      2. I almost always get spicy pork, and it's always about the same heat as at Ohgane. That covers about half a dozen bay area places, and causes me to believe that typical Korean food just doesn't use that much heat. Love to hear from those more knowledgeable.

        3915 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611

        1. I've had the same experience as bbulkow, I've eaten at just about every Korean restaurant in Oakland and the capsaicin level is never as high as at some Thai and Indian places, and I don't think they make it less spicy for non-Koreans.

          I think the spiciest dish I've had at a Korean restaurant might be the zam pong at Chef Yu's, but again, it doesn't have the bite of a Thai-spicy papaya salad or a traditional vindaloo.

          I haven't tried Ohgane's yuk gae jang:

          3915 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611

          Chef Yu's
          3919 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

          1. Bay Area Korean food doesn't tend to be as spicy as Thai or Indian food, but that's not the case in Los Angeles. I've had some dishes there that I thought would burn my stomach lining.

            But overall, I would say that Thai and Indian food in the Bay Area is better than in LA, whereas Korean food in LA is better than anything I've had up here. So maybe it's all related.