Explore Korean food in its many forms: from soups to snacks to Korean fried chicken to kimchi and more.

Photo by James Byrum

With kimchi pizzas, bulgogi tacos, and gochujang ribs popping up on menus of in-the-know, non-Korean restaurants all over the country, and with the rise of celebrity chefs like David Chang of Momofuku fame to Roy Choi of the Kogi food truck, Anthony Bourdain has said, “what chefs want to eat — and increasingly everybody — is Korean food.”

As a first-generation Korean-American, I’m gratified to see a wider audience come to appreciate the wonders of Korean food and sometimes slightly dismayed at what I see as gross misinterpretations (usually not to the benefit of the dish, in my opinion). So what is Korean food? In this post, I delve into the basics of Korean food, from an overview of the geography and cultural influences that shaped Korean cuisine to the basic vocabulary of Korean food. (more…)

Posted by on September 18th, 2017

DSCN7822

Doshirak (도시락), literally “lunch box,” are much more than Korean Tupperware. With convenient compartments for a cooked meat or main dish, rice, and pickled vegetables, these tins transport quickly prepared, inexpensive meals perfect for on-the-go professionals and students. Think of doshirak carrying a deconstructed version of the common dolsot bibimbap, especially as you mix your fried egg into the crisped rice. (more…)

Posted by on August 29th, 2013

piedmontese-beefLike all Koreans, food was very important to my family when I was growing up in Los Angeles. No birthday morning went by without seaweed soup for good luck and every Lunar New Year was rung in with the meaty broth of a rice cake soup.

Meat was even more important because our family was in the meat processing business. And after traveling the world looking for the best beef, I’ve come to appreciate Piedmontese cattle so much that I introduced it at my restaurant, Star King Korean BBQ, the only Korean barbecue where you will find it. (more…)

Posted by on August 1st, 2013

tteok

Western snack culture consists of everything from potato chips to ice cream, which is a far cry from traditional Korean snacks, so let’s learn a little more about what Korean snacks are all about.

Tteok (Traditional Rice Cake): Korean cake is made steaming glutinous rice flour (also known as sweet rice or chapssal). Normal rice flour can be used for some kinds of tteok.  In Korea it is customary to eat tteok guk (tteok soup) on New Year’s Day and sweet tteok at weddings and on birthdays. It is often considered a celebratory food and can range from rather elaborate versions with nuts and fruits down to the plain-flavored tteok used in home cooking. Some common ingredients for many kinds of tteok are mung bean, red bean, and sweet red bean paste, Korean mugwort, jujube and other dried fruits, sesame seeds and oil, sugar, and pine nuts.

  • Patsirutteok: Rice powder and the pounded red beans are layered alternately in siru, an earthenware steamer, with a final layer of red beans, and the mixture is steamed. The red color of the red bean is believed to keep away evil spirits and bad luck, and this tteok is prepared for many occasions to bring good luck.
  • Hwajeon: Small, sweet pancake or tteok (rice cake) made of any edible flower petals such as azalea or chrysanthemum, glutinous rice flour and sugar in Korean cuisine.  Its name means “flower cake”
  • Jeolpyeon: Pounded and steamed rice dough is pressed in a wooden pattern mold, cut into pieces, and coated with sesame oil.
  • Injeolmi: Rice cake, made by steaming and pounding glutinous rice flour, shaped into small pieces and covered with steamed powdered dried beans or hulled red bean powder.
  • Gyeongdan: Glutinous rice dough is formed into small balls, placed in boiling water and removed, and then coated with different-colored powders made from sesame seeds, beans, cinnamon, chestnut, etc.

Hangwa (Traditional Sweets and Cookies): Hangwa is appreciated for its artistic and decorative colors and patterns as well as for its pleasing sweet taste. Often taken along with traditional beverages, it is regarded as a healthful snack and classy dessert. Beautifully packaged baskets or boxes of hangwa also make excellent gifts, especially appropriate for the elderly. It is available at shops specializing in traditional cakes and sweets and special sections in department stores.

  • Gangjeong: Light and fluffy, made from glutinous rice and honey. Deep-fried and coated with popped rice, cinnamon, sesame seeds, etc.
  • Yakgwa: Soft cookie made by kneading sesame oil, honey, wine and ginger juice into flour.  The dough is than patterned after a flower, fried and topped with  honey.
  • Dasik: Dasik is made from nongmal (which is starch made from potatoes, sweet potatoes or soaked mung beans), pine pollen (songhwa), black sesame, honey, flour from rice or other grains, nuts and/or herbs. Then it’s kneaded and pressed with decorative stamps.

Hwachae (Traditional Cold Beverage):  Traditional cold beverages are called hwachae. They are usually made with fruits or grains, and water sweetened by either sugar or honey, or flavored and colored by omija (fruit of the “five-taste” tree, Schisandra chinensis). There are also hwachae made from Oriental medicinal foods, azalea or pine pollen.

  • Sikhye: A traditional sweet Korean rice beverage, usually served as a dessert. In addition to its liquid ingredients, sikhye also contains grains of cooked rice, and in some cases pine nuts.
  • Sujeonggwa: A traditional fruit punch is made from dried persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger, and is often garnished with pine nuts. The flavor of sujeonggwa is mildly hot and spicy, and at the same time sweet. It is served cold, often in a punch bowl, and is dark reddish brown in color.
  • Fruit Hwachae: A fruit punch made from cherries, strawberries, peaches or watermelons. There are also hwachae with floating azalea petals, boiled barley, pine pollen, or slices of pear in omija-flavored water, sweetened with honey or sugar.

Popular Snacks: Any time you pass by shopping districts, traditional markets, back streets of areas bustling with crowds, tourist spots or college towns, you will come across street vendors, canopy wagons or flour food eateries offering snacks popular among a wide range of age groups. They often serve as an inexpensive meal for Koreans in a hurry or for tourists who want to partake of the local culture.

  • Ramyeon: Korean-style ramen noodles. Besides classic ramyeon, there are a variety of others such as seafood-added (haemul ramyeon), kimchi-added, etc. Instant varieties in a Styrofoam bowl can be found at supermarkets or convenience stores; just add boiling water and it’s ready in a few minutes.
  • Eomuk: Eomuk is sliced fish paste that is skewered before being boiled in broth. Enjoyed during the colder months of the year, eomuk usually accompanies soju or other beverages.
  • Sundae: A Korean dish made generally by boiling or steaming cow or pig’s intestines that are stuffed with various ingredients. The most common type of sundae is made of pig’s intestines stuffed with cellophane noodles (dangmyeon), barley, and pork blood, although some variants also contain perilla leaves, scallions (pa), fermented soybean paste (doenjang), glutinous rice, kimchi and soybean sprouts.
  • Gimbap: Made from steamed white rice (bap) and various other ingredients, rolled in gim (sheets of dried seaweed) and served cold in bite-size slices. Gimbap is often eaten during picnics or outdoor events, or as a light lunch, served with danmuji or kimchi. It is similar, but not identical, to norimaki, one of the many variants of the Japanese rice-based dish sushi.
  • Twigim: Batter-dipped items that include vegetables of various kinds, meat, seafood, kimbap – just about anything that the cook can get the batter to adhere to. The same concept as tempura.
  • Tteokbokgi: Rice powder is steamed and made into a long cylinder called garaetteok. It is cut finger-length and cooked in a spicy, sweet sauce. Vegetables, or ramyeon can be added depending on one’s taste.

So if you’re hankering for something other than a bag of chips, you might want to stop by a Korean bakery/supermarket or check the menu of your favorite Korean restaurant to see the availability of some of the food offerings above.  Who knows? That bag of chips may soon be left by the wayside.

Posted by on November 13th, 2009

kfcFor the past couple of years, a new chicken sensation has been hitting the culinary landscape all over the US and hails from Korea.  Specifically, everyone is gaga over the Korean Fried Chicken.  So let’s get the scoop on what the buzz is all about.

First and foremost, unlike its American counterparts, chickens in Korea run on the smaller side.  As such, these chickens are usually small enough to be fried whole, cut into bite-size pieces and then served according.  The way that Korean Fried Chicken restaurants handle the larger US chickens is that they serve just the chicken wings and/or small drumsticks.

When it comes to the cooking technique, the chicken is first coated finely with flour, dipped into a thin batter before hitting the fryer.  In terms of the oil temperature, it’s usually at a low 350 degrees.  What makes this chicken unique is that it is double-fried.

Initially, the chicken is fried for 10 minutes and it’s removed from the oil, shaken in a wire strainer to remove excess oil and allowed to cool for a couple of minutes.  This first stage slows down the cooking process and ensures that the crust doesn’t get too brown before the meat is cooked through.

When it’s done resting, the chicken then spends  an additional 10 minutes in the fryer.  Once the chicken is fried and removed from the fryer, it’s glazed with either a sweet garlic-soy sauce or a hot red pepper sauce.  If done correctly, the sauce is absorbed into the crust, which adds flavor but doesn’t make the crust soggy.  The usual accompaniment to Korean fried chicken is cubes of pickled radishes and/or coleslaw with some kind of thousand island dressing.

One of the reasons that Korean Fried Chicken is so appealing is that the skin is thoroughly fried all the way through.  That fatty layer between the skin and chicken doesn’t exist.  Also, the chicken when eaten with the pickled radishes produces delicious flavor trails of salt and spice, cold and hot, briny and sweet and wonderful textures like crunchy and tender that run across one’s palate.

So if you’re looking to explore a new fried chicken frontier, Korean-style, than look below for some recommendations!

Chicken Day
301 S Western Ave # 108
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 387-9933

Unidentified Flying Chickens
71-22 Roosevelt Ave
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 205-6662

Boom Boom Chicken
553 Main St
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
(201) 592-9700

Crisp
2940 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(877) 693-8653

Bon Chon Chicken
161 Brighton Ave
Allston, MA 02134
(617) 599-4817

Kyochon Chicken
3833 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 739-9292

Posted by on July 31st, 2009

seoul-house-05A slight chill is still in the air, which means it’s still soup weather and if you’re someone like me who loves strong, bold flavors than sometimes the only kind of soup that will do is Korean Soon Tofu Soup. If you’ve never had Soon Tofu Soup before, let me give you a little more information.

What is Tofu?

Before we can even delve into Korean Soon Tofu Soup, first, a quick introduction for tofu itself. Tofu (the Japanese “Romaji” spelling), also called doufu (the Chinese “Pinyin” spelling often used in Chinese recipes) or bean curd (the literal translation), is a food of Chinese origin, made by coagulating soy milk, and then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. The making of tofu from soy milk is similar to the technique of making cheese from milk. Wheat gluten, or seitan, in its steamed and fried forms, is often mistakenly called “tofu” in Asian or vegetarian dishes.

There are basically three types of tofu: soft/silken tofu, Asian firm tofu and Western firm/dried tofu. For Korean Soon Tofu Soups, the tofu of choice is the soft/silken tofu.

What is Soft/Silken Tofu?

This undrained tofu contains the highest moisture content of all fresh tofus. Its texture can be described as similar to that of very fine custard. In Korea and Japan, traditional soft tofu is made with seawater which has an even higher moisture content and is often eaten as a dessert, but sometimes with salty pickles or hot sauce added instead. Because it is nearly impossible to pick up this type of tofu with chopsticks, it is generally eaten with a spoon.

What is Korean Soon Tofu Soup?

In Korea, tofu is often served not as a substitute for meat, but alongside it, with a small amount of meat flavoring enriching the silken tofu, which adds its incomparable body and mouth feel.

The Korean specialty soon dubu (tofu) chigae (soup or stew) combines soft tofu, spicy broth and bits of meat or seafood or kimchi. Like all Korean soups and stews, it is served hot enough to boil an egg, which is exactly what you do; at “soon houses” all over the world.

Now that you’ve learned more about Korean Soon Tofu Soup, here’s a list of some Tofu Houses you can check out for yourself.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 380-1113

My Tofu House
4627 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA
(415) 750-1818

Cho Dang Tofu House
5907 Buford Hwy Ne
Doraville, GA
(770) 220-0667

Tofu Village
9889 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX
(713) 777-9889

So Gong Dong Tofu House
3307 W Bryn Mawr Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 539-8377

Posted by on April 10th, 2009

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