In pursuit of pajeon.
- Nab Oct 28, 2012 07:01 AM
Pajeon = Korean scallion pancake. Not to be confused with Chinese style 'cong you bing', which is more pastry than pancake, you won't find that delicate mille-feuille flakiness in Korean pajeon.
But speaking of CYB, I am now reminded of an excellent tip-off from our very own lipoff on the subject: http://digboston.com/taste/2007/07/91/
Pajeon, at its core, is a straightforward water-flour-egg batter - but there are twists and turns, occasionally differing flours, varying seasonings or egg fraction, not to mention scallion treatment. Adjusting any of these variables can result in a wide variety of outcomes, and there's indeed a wide spectrum of pajeon styles - from thin & cracker-crisp to the light & fluffy. Some say an ultra-packed pajeon is a sign of pajeon pride & a symbol of generosity, as floppy as it may be. Whatever the style, I always look forward to pajeon within a feast - the requisite bite between slurps of soup or nibbles of banchan, as a mopper and a sopper, and always washed down by endless rounds of Hite and soju.
Pajeon can be found on probably every single Korean menu in town, most commonly haemul pajeon (seafood scallion pancake), which usually consists of chopped shrimp, squid, calamari, clams and sometimes (tho rarely) mussels or oysters. The bar is low for enjoying haemul pajeon, though the worst offense, an over-eggy omelet-y mushiness, is occasionally encountered. I get the sense that, in Korea and wherever else possible, the typical pajeon is elevated to other heights with piles of seasonal wild scallions which are a wholly different gustatory delight than the average mega-market scallion. I doubt that exists here, but we do have a wide variety of pajeon around town, sometimes variable at the same place.
Suishaya (Chinatown) - honestly, I don't have a great recollection of this one, as it's been a while since I've been to Suishaya and I'm not compelled to return anytime soon. Medium thickness, decent seafood serving, it looks a bit light on scallions but appears to have some possible regions of crisp.
Myong Dong 1st Ave (Allston) - thin and pretty crispy throughout, each wedge will practically hold its horizontal posture when picked up - the point here is straight-ahead crispy-fried, booze-soaking, K-pop-watching fare. Not the place to be looking for a proud pajeon.
Wujeon (Burlington H-Mart) - I could appreciate this ultra-thin, seafood skimpy version, as it was fairly generous with scallions pre-sauteed to release some onion jus, it's definitely a cheap food-court version, but pretty good.
ChungKiWa (Medford) - in contrast to Wujeon and MD1A this is a slightly heartier pajeon, a bit thicker and a bit eggier, but very well-balanced with some good crisp and flop. I can't recall the seafood ratio though.
Korea Garden (Allston) - definitely a standout, though a bit inconsistent, but when it's on it's a very proud pajeon, lots of seafood, big ol pieces of scallions, and a nicely browned and crispy shell with a slightly softer interior.
Westborough Korean Restaurant (Westborough) - another big-boy packed to capacity, it's thick, heavy, and floppy, but also a bit different from visit-to-visit - on one occasion it was a clearly-encased pancake with a discernible shell, and other times it's a bit better integrated. If you've got a table full of dishes (as you should here), having anymore than a single wedge will occupy a significant amount tummy real estate.
Bonchon (Allston) - possibly my favourite version, loaded with scallions and seafood into a thick, craggy pie with lacy edges and a Neapolitan-esque pizzapie quality - a perfect balance of textures throughout each bite.
Let's perseverate on pajeon for a bit here.
(order of pix: Suishaya, Myong Dong 1st Ave, Wujeon, Chung Ki Wa, Korea Garden, WKR, WKR take 2, and Bonchon)
I admire your dedication :-)
I've had the haemul pajeon most often at Koreana, since I have a few DC's who like to go there specifically. It's been variable - usually a thicker version, chock full of seafood, but occasionally the seafood is a bit rubbery. Once or twice it's arrived so soon after we ordered that it must have been cooked ahead of time. I do like thier dipping sauce - lots of minced scallions, maybe some bell pepper too? From your pics it looks like there's variation in dipping sauces at the other places.
Your survey makes me feel a lot better about the pajeon I turn out at home...it's hard to get consistency. I've finally figured out which pan to use, how long to pre-heat, how long to cook, whether to flip one big pancake or make smaller ones. Lots of things seem to affect the consistency.
Thanks for mentioning the sauce, which I just couldn't recollect the details of for me to mention them above. But I did re-visit Korea Garden last night and can say that their haemul pajeon was about as close to my personal ideal - medium thickness, excellent texture through use of some rice flour, loaded with seafood including mussels and oysters, and a bushel of whole scallion strips throughout. It was so proud a pajeon that it's impossible to pick it up with chopsticks in tact, yet even as it inevitably gets a little mangled on its way to your plate it retains a crisp in each bite. And the sauce was garlicky and packed a good bit of gochujang heat, and a nice tang of vinegar though my DC noted the soy was of a somewhat poor quality which was noticeable.
Have you been to Woo Jung in Ayer? Haven't been for awhile, but remember a very good pancake there, as well as a kim chi version.
Dang...Your post makes me wish my mom's pajeon is not as fantastic as it is (medium-ish thickness, crispy, not greasy at all...perfection..she usually does scallion-only or crabmeat-only to avoid sogginess), then maybe I'd be compelled to sample the local wares. In my distant memory, I think I've had decent versions at Buk Kyung II in Union Sq (Somerville) and at Chung Ki Wa (Medford). I think all of the versions I've had in town were just the scallion...I always find the mullti-seafood ones get too heavy. Sauce-wise, I'm accustomed to only one...low sodium but good quality soy sauce with a splash of rice vinegar, a sprinkle of kochijang.
I'd like to try Manna House in Arlington one of these days. They also have pajeon. (And is this new for them? Jajangmyun and jampong.)
Assuming the "Korean style pancake with kimchee & seafood" at Manna House (Arlington) is pajeon, I enjoyed the one I had there a few months back (will revisit when not distracted by Toraya). Not very familiar with Korean food (should fix that), so I don't have a basis of comparison. I'd be interested to hear how they measure up.
Nab, i LOOOOOVE that you did this. and in this very thorough, and with photos, way. How I wish this teaching report format would appear regularly on CH. We all learn so much. You sure get my vote!
I'm drooling...Don't these also have some ground soybean flour in them, not just wheat flour?
I have to admit, I often get my fix at H Mart, where it seems someone's Ma is in the back just frying up pancakes with whatever's around that day; sometimes green with scallions and chives, sometimes red with fake Krab...All good...
We had both the "plain" and kimchi pajeon at MD 1st Ave about a month ago and both were bland, greasy and disappointing. So not Gangnam style.