On a recent and rare rainy weekend, we decided that expanding our knowledge of the best eateries in Korea Town was in order. Who to call? My neighborhood K-Town experts on eating and drinking Ji Hong and Louise "Weezy" Leonard.
These ladies make it their business to get down to Korea Town on a regular basis for serious food-sploration. Louise, a talented chef (she just won The Taste, you guys!!!) hails from Wisconsin and literally frets over every meal, insisting that life is too short to eat crappy food. She professes a deep and enduring love for asian cuisine and beer, not necessarily in that order. Ji is a super hero by night (trauma nurse! This girl makes all of us who whine and complain about our fluffy little marketing jobs look like real layabouts as she's LITERALLY saving lives every night of the week) and a super eater/athlete/seamstress by day. Hailing from Chicago, Ji was one of two Koreans in her school. She says her friends would never eat when they came over to her house because they all thought the food was too weird! So, her mom started making rice and kielbasa to go along with the kimchi. Luckily, Ji is our friend now and we couldn't wait to go eat with her.
First stop is a little casserole joint called Gon Ji Am. Ji takes a moment to explain the different options to those of us who are a little bit errrrm white-bread in the palate department (i.e. Renee and I. Val is a full fledged citizen of the world with the accent to prove it, she eats and enjoys EVERYTHING. I am a little squeemish when it comes to tentacles and fermented things and Renee is pure bred corn-fed white girl from midwestern farming stock but has overcome her humble culinary roots to become quite the gourmand.)
Ji says every korean meal worth a damn starts with a variety of banchan (side dishes, ya'll) and she orders us up a bunch of them. Pickled and fermented peppers, scallions, and radishes. These snappy tangy numbers arrive accompanied by the ubiquitous korean staple, kimchi. Kimchi is the national dish of Korea. I feel like everyone must know about kimchi by now. In LA, fermented food and drinks are the latest health craze. You can't turn a corner without running into a mustachioed hipster slugging down an amber-glassed pint of fizzy fermented kombucha (what is that stuff anyway?? Some kind of slime soda guaranteed to gently coax your molecules into whistling humming alignment with all that is good and right with the universe and produce invigorating gold standard bowel movements at regular intervals throughout the day, that's what. It also gets you a little bit drunk. If you can stand the mouthfuls of algae that sometimes sneak past your lips and get tangled in your teeth, this beverage will make you feel GREAT!) Kimchi is the O.G. but in crunchy, spicy cabbage form and without the mouth algae problem. I prefer it one thousand percent.
But I digress. The main dishes arrive. We have a mushroom casserole and octopus in sweet chili paste (gochujang) washed down with Hite beer. Weezy the beer expert among us says that Hite is basically beer flavored seltzer water, but I think it cuts the sticky heat perfectly.
ON TO THE DUMPLINGS! I think I've made it pretty clear in the past that my favorite form of food is the dough pouch. Wrapping anything in dough improves it exponentially. The Koreans are exper at this technique. Ji took us to a dumpling house with a variety of sweet and savory little miracles to choose from. The kimchi stuffed bun was a crowd pleaser, but I favored this innovation:
The red bean paste dumpling filled with….wait for it…..ANOTHER DUMPLING. Pork, to be exact. Drizzle the whole thing with vinegar and soy and you've got yourself the ultimate sweet/savory mash up. Ji was unconvinced, but I was in heaven.
At this point we were almost done in, but there was one last stop. We headed over to Okrumong for a red bean snow bowl and a cup of coffee.
The snow bowl tastes just as good as it's lovely name suggests. It is a fluffy concoction that melts on your tongue almost instantly, filling your mouth with sweetness. Pumpkin porridge was a spicy compliment to the feathery sugared snow. The coffee was hot, the snow cold and light. A few sips of coffee sweetened by a bite of snow was the perfect capper to a rainy day crawl through K-town.
Side Note: As I mentioned earlier Val is a citizen of the WORLD and a fabulous chef. Here's and amazing recipe for Kimchi that appears in her book Pickled and Packed. I just made it the other day for this shot, and it is so fresh and delicious. Try it at home!
Val's Spicy Kimchi
You can literally kimchi any type of vegetabe or fruit and I do a lot. It is not only fun to make but delcious to eat and gets better the longer you leave it in the fridge. Kimchi is "cooked" by fermenting and you will be surprised how easy it is. Once you have made this once, think up new combinations by using chard or kale and even adding a few Indian spices for something different. One of my favorite ways of eating Kimchi is my recipe for Spicy Kimchi & Hash browns with Poached Eggs the ultimate weekend brunch accompanied by a Spicy Bloody Mary. A great way to kick back and enjoy Sunday!
Yields 2 X 16oz jars
1 small Napa Cabbage (approx. 1.5lbs) cut in half
1 small Savoy cabbage (approx. 1.5lbs) cut in half core removed
¾ cup of sea salt
6 cups of water
3 medium carrots grated
4 green onions thinly sliced
2” piece of ginger peeled and grated
4 radishes grated
2 Persian cucumbers grated
½ cup of Rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons of Chili Sambal
Cut the cabbages crosswise into 1” thick strips and place in a large ceramic bowl. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the cabbage. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 8-24 hours.
Drain the cabbage and place back in the bowl along with the
carrots, onions, ginger, radishes, cucumbers. Add the vinegar, fish sauce, Chili Sambal , ½ cup of water and mix thoroughly to combine.
Spoon the cabbage mixture into two 16oz sterilized jars, pouring over any juices left in the bowl. Screw the lids on tightly and let the jars sit at room temp for 24 hours then refrigerate.
They will be ready in 5 days for eating.
Will keep for 6 weeks.
Check out more fun recipes in my book Pickled & Packed available on Amazon