My cold remedy: Sul Lung Tang

I had a cold for the past two weeks. You know, the one where you think you’re getting better but it doesn’t quite go away. Don’t worry, I’m cold-free now. While I was sick though, I had the biggest hankering for some sul lung tang (or seolleongtang… pronouncer: SUH-loong-TAHNG). It’s a Korean soup which is equivalent to a chicken soup for me. Why? Because I crave it whenever I get a cold or flu.

It’s a simple soup but takes almost the whole day to make. Basically, you boil ox bones for hours that make a milky broth without seasoning. You can add Korean glass noodles and also some brisket, tripe, or both for some protein. Then when you are ready to eat it, you can add garlic, green onions, and salt to flavor the soup — you season it yourself right when you’re going to eat it and no before. Here’s my soup that I got as take out from Han Bat Sul Lung Tang in Koreatown.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang is a no-nonsense restaurant – this soup is pretty much all they serve but I’m sure you got that from their name. You can eat at the restaurant but since I was pretty sick, I got my meal for take-out.

My mom always told me if I craved sul lung tang, go to the place that only makes this — mama Kim was right because this place didn’t disappoint. For $9 I got the soup with brisket (you can choose from brisket, tripe, tongue, or flank), two types of kimchi (cabbage and radish), rice, chili paste, green onions, and sea salt. Here’s the spread I made when I got home…

Before I spooned the rice into the soup, I added green onions and then the sea salt. I matched the flavor first then I added my rice. NOTE: I try not to add too much salt to be healthy.

If you’re looking for some Korean comfort food soup, I highly recommend Han Bat Sul Lung Tang. By the time I was done with it, there wasn’t an extra drop left in the bowl.

TIP: If you get the soup for take out, put it in the fridge for a little bit and the fat will collect to the top of the broth and you can easily spoon it out – this is what I do so it’s less fatty.

Cold eats: mul naengmyeon

This post highlights one of the dishes I talked about last weekend on public radio’s Splendid Table. The theme was cold eats in Los Angeles and one of the dishes I highlighted is the Korean dish called mul naengmyeon [pronouncer: mool nay-ng-me-yuhn]. It’s basically buckwheat noodles in a cold beef broth soup with a tangy flavor (vinegar and a little sugar) served with julienned cucumbers, sliced beef, sliced Asian pear, and a hard boiled egg.

It’s a light (but filling) noodle dish that’s perfect for the summer. A lot of people may not realize this but mul naengmyeon’s origin is actually from North Korea and it became popular after the Korean War. The noodles are intentionally long because it represents long life but most restaurants will cut the noodles so it’s easier to eat. If you go to a mul naengmyeon restaurant, don’t be surprised by all the slurping noises because that’s the only (and best!) way to eat the dish and show your appreciation for the food.

The mul naengmyeon in this post is from Chosun Galbi in Koreatown. They serve banchan (Korean side dishes) with the noodles and the best part is they have a nice outdoor patio where you can dine – perfect for a summer afternoon lunch.

I think the best mul naengmyeon I had was in Seoul last year. Why? The broth. It was the perfect balance of savory, tangy, and sweet. I’ll try to post it later so you can compare.

Note: If you like spicy dishes, there’s also another variety of naengmyeon called bibim naengmyeon which is served in a red hot spicy dressing instead of a broth.

2011 New Year Soup… and more!

One of the traditions I have in my family is New Year’s soup, also known as tteoguk (or duk guk), which is a Korean rice cake soup. The soup is traditionally served on New Year’s to symbolize good luck for the upcoming year. You’re probably thinking rice cake in a soup doesn’t taste that great but before you make any judgement, take a look at the soup my mom made this year when she came over to my place.

My mom made the soup base from scratch – basically, a beef broth with seasoning. She then added the rice cakes and dumplings (optional). The key is not to undercook the rice cakes or they will be too firm and hard to chew. And you don’t want to overcook it or it will be too mushy and not appetizing – you have to get it just right. On top ,my mom garnished the soul with thinly sliced marinated meat, eggs, and sesame seeds. She usually puts seaweed but I didn’t have it on hand at my place so we had to go without.

This is the main dish but my mom loves to cook and decided to be an overacheiver (and I mean this in the best way possible). She cooked up some homemade galbi (also known as kalbi). She makes her marinade from scratch and adds some secret ingredients that make this one of the best ribs ever. I’m not saying this because I’m her daughter – it’s true! It’s sweet and savory and when the meat cooks, there’s a nice caramelization that happens. Oh! And the sesame oil and garlic aromas of the sauce makes you salivate for the dish. But here, you can only take a look…

Another dish that is a favorite for our New Year’s feast is japchae. This dish is pretty nuritious because it’s basically cellophane noodles, sesame oil (very important!), spinach, carrots, garlic, eggs, meat (optional), onion, and mushrooms… and of course the proper seasoning. In this one, my mom decided to use bell peppers instead of mushrooms.

Ever since I was a kid, I loved the colors in this dish. Yes, the flavors are clean and I don’t feel heavy after eating this but honestly, don’t you think it’s one pretty dish?

My New Year’s day kicked the year off right thanks to my mom’s culinary skills. I hope the rest of the year is full of more delicious bounty!

Happy 2011!

From the streets to the strip: Chego

Those who have been following the food truck scene in Los Angeles know the trendsetter Kogi. And those in the know who don’t want to stand in the long lines at the Kogi truck drive over to the Alibi Room in Culver City to get their tacos served hot by the same people who started Kogi. Now, those who want more than a Korean taco or kimchi quesadilla can check out Kogi’s new sister restaurant Chego – yes, this is a legit restaurant in a quintessential strip mall in LA.

Chego means “the best” in Korean so I was curious to see if the place lived up to the name. The Korean influenced restaurant opened in April in this unassuming strip mall off of Overland near the freeway. It’s far from downtown Culver City or the bars. When I got there on a Tuesday evening, the line was out the door. Inside, there are tables with seats that line the walls but in the center there’s a long communal table people stand and eat at. I admit I like the standing table because it saves space and you get a chance to talk to strangers — because of the casual atmosphere.

OK, let’s get down to business… the food. Don’t expect tacos or quesadillas at this joint. It’s straight up small dishes, bowls, and appetizers. The dishes are Korean inspired but not purely all eastern. I mean, just take a look at these Ooey Gooey Fries… chilli, two types of cheeses, sour cream, pickled garlic and then some… there was definitely some western influences in making this appetizer.

Believe it or not, I wanted something a little light and I had a hard time finding that on the menu. I settled for the $12 Salad (which is really $7) that has goat cheese, cranberries, mixed greens, miso, and pickles…

I also got a side of the 3PM Meatballs. These are three fried meatballs with polenta, meat, sesame, and topped with green onions. I really wanted to like this dish and it almost had it – the flavors were there but I wanted the outside to be a little but more crispier since it was fried. But, boy, it sure looks pretty.

If you go to this place, it helps to bring a group of friends because you can try each other’s food. One of my pals ordered Tiny’s Prime Rib Rice Plate. Um, there’s nothing tiny about this dish. The meat was cooked just right – juicy in the center with lots of flavor in the skin.

Someone else at our table got the Buttered Kimchi Chow which is between kimchi fried rice and bibimbap. It was really flavorful but a bit too spicy for me. I did like how they added the furikake seasoning on top though. If you’re into the spice – this dish is for you.

My verdict? The prices were decent and I’d go back again but next time I’ll skip the small dishes and go straight to the main dish – especially that prime rib plate. Yum!

I do wonder if more food trucks will go legit and open storefronts. Do you know some are following in this trend? Let me know!

Bites from Korean BBQ Cook-Off 2010

Finding good Korean BBQ in Los Angeles isn’t that hard. The reason is because if you drive through Koreatown, the smell of sesame, soy, and garlic waft through the air and lures you to a Korean meat-serving establishment. But what’s the best Korean BBQ in LA? The 2nd Annual Korean BBQ Cook-Off answered that question this past weekend.

I took some out of town friends to the cook-off in Koreatown. Close to a dozen Korean BBQ restaurants set up tents so you could eat your way to find the best Korean BBQ LA has to offer for $5 a plate. But before I continue, I want to let you know that Korean BBQ isn’t one type of meat or one recipe or marinade – it’s a variety of meats that are marinated or cook in a traditional Korean way over gas or charcoal grill.

Judges for the cook-off included Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jonathan Gold, Chef Ludo Lefebvre, actress Sandra Oh, and Consul General Jae Soo Kim.

I admit I’m a bit biased because I think my mom makes the best Korean BBQ but I did have my favorite BBQ dish of the day… pork ribs from Ham Ji Park. Take a look at these succulent ribs that are slightly carmelized on the edges and sweet and juicy when you bite into it.

Right before I ate these finger-licking good ribs, I also had the spicey pork bulgogi with a side of rice from Olympic Restaurant. It was a little too spicy for me but I sniffled through it because it was too tasty to pass up. By the way, if something is too spicy, don’t drink water… eat more rice or drink dairy. It definitely helps!

In between all the BBQ tasting, we had some non-BBQ items like these sticky rice seaweed wraps. I admit I wanted to save room in my stomach for the meat so I just took a bite of the spicy tuna.

For those with a sweet tooth, dessert food trucks like Sprinkles cupcake mobile were serving up cupcakes in individualized cupcake boxes.

Also, I can’t forget the Cool Haus truck! Check out this guy’s Thai iced tea ice cream and lychee ice cream with brioche and chocolate chip cookie dessert… and yes, that’s all in just in ONE dessert pictured below.

But you’re probably wondering – Angela, who won!!!??!? The winner the judges chose for the best BBQ went to Park’s BBQ.

I had their bulgogi which was tender and perfectly marinated – sweet enough for the flavors to sit on your lips for you to lick and want to take another bite. The meat was served next to a potato salad which was basically foreplay for the BBQ – in my opinion.

Congrats to all the winners and also all the vendors who endured the heat and crowd to bring good food to the people. Can’t wait for next year!

Seoul (street) food! (part 3)

One of the highlights of my trip to Korea was the street food. The smell, the taste, and the sounds that went with the food was an experience in itself. There’s no way to replicate something like that… but let me tease you with what I could capture in this entry.

When I walked around at night looking for some street food eats, I noticed how the city came alive. The lights livened up the concrete architecture. The outdoor markets were overflowing with people at all hours. And the street vendors had some clever ways of selling their tchochkes.

But OK, you’re wondering – where’s the food? Well, I ate plenty of street food and here’s the evidence! Bon appétit.

Above, you’ll see this yummy bread that is baked in a walnut shape with a dollop of red bean called hodu gwaja. They say it’s a type of cookie but to me it seemed more cakey/bready. On a cold day, the smell of the hodu gwaja is very comforting. The best is when you bite into it and it’s slightly crispy on the outside and it’s soft and warm on the inside. Note: I’m salivating while writing this.

In the Namdaemun area is this steamed bun place. So good! I remember seeing the steam before I could see the food. They served pork steamed bun and also red bean steamed bun – I ate one of each on my trip. Delish!

Walking around the street markets is great because how you use all your senses. On this one path there were food stalls right next to each other and the scents of savory dishes would morph into sweet. Below, you’ll see the common dukbokki stand.

Who doesn’t love food on a stick?

Waffle stand in the underground subway station. I didn’t know waffles were so popular in Korea.

Dried seafood street stand in Myeongdong.

The one street food item that I couldn’t eat is the silkworms below called beondegi. I hear the taste isn’t that bad but I couldn’t get over the scent because it was so unfamiliar to me and didn’t quite smell sweet or savory. Perhaps I’ll give it a try next time I visit Korea. However, I did eat the Korean style hot dog on a stick in the background.

Below was my favorite street food called hotteok. You can see it looks like a mini-pancake and it tastes sweet. There are several types of fillings you can choose from buts to squash… I chose the honey. Mmm… so good!

This guy has a stand in Insadong and serves up a Japanese/Korean style chicken shish kabob. The chicken had furikake sprinkled on top and you could choose to have the a brush of the Korean style spicy/sweet paste. The best part of eating  the chicken off the stick is that you can come back and hand the skewer over to the guy and he’ll cut it shorter so it’s easier for you to eat it. Brilliant!

I learned that Koreans love delivery. Even McDonald’s delivers! A resident told me that in the springtime you can call for delivery and have them deliver just about anywhere – like the college campus or even the park. I wish we had that in the US!

And I know you’re wondering why I’m still stuck on McDonald’s… well, I was told by my cousin that I should eat the bulgogi burger in Korea. How could I refuse? I don’t go to McDonald’s often in the US but I find it interesting how the chain has tried to localize itself in different countries – hence the bulgogi burger. My review? It was sweeter than what I expected but it worked out well next to the salty french fries. I’d do it again!

Hungry for more? Alas, this is it for my Korea food posts but stay tuned for other highlights from Korea like my trip to the DMZ and other cultural highlights.

Seoul food! (part 2)

I love eating out at restaurants because I usually eat with people who love to eat. You would think everyone loves to eat if they are going to pay for it but that’s not always the case. I’ve had meals with people who don’t really care where or what they are eating because they just need food to function. But to eat with people who taste ingredients and appreciate the production of the meal and the company – these are my people.

On my trip to Korea I went with complete strangers. I was not friends with any of the fellows – but that didn’t last long. As you saw in part 1 of my Korea food series, there’s a lot of family style eating. It’s common to reach over to grab some kimchi with your chopsticks or to ask someone to pass the soup. The eating experience is communal – you share flavors, conversation, and laughs. And when you’re sitting on the floor with limited table space, you get to know each other fast.

Here are some photos from the group meals we had. These are the seafood dishes from Gyeongju and Busan – cities outside of Seoul. I suppose this entry should be called” (not) Seoul food” but that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Dishes galore! This was at the end of our meal. So glad I don’t have to do all these dishes.

This is the Korean style sashimi – it’s chewier than Japanese sashimi and you usually dip it in a spicy sauce instead of soy. I was impressed with the simple yet precise presentation.

Hand rolls!

Seoul food! (part 1)

In 21 days, I took over 1,300 photos. Granted, not all were gems but I did have some photographs that I was quite proud of. One of the subjects that I love to photograph is food – as you can see from my previous posts – and there was plenty of food porn inspiration in Korea.

I should have known this when I had the best airplane food of my life when I flew Korean Air. They served bibimbap! And yes, it was good.

And they even served it with the traditional gochujang (spicy paste) and a small pouch of sesame oil to mix in with the bibimbap.

The food I ate during my fellowship was a lot more decadent than what I usually at home. When I eat with my family, I’m used to eating just rice, soup, a few sidedishes, and main course (usually a protein). Not in Korea. Course after course, food just kept coming out to our table! The other fellows and I were there to learn the culture and we definitely got a chance to eat our way into learning the food culture.

There was an endless amount of food that would come our way. Sometimes, I’d put down my chopsticks but the server would tell me more food would be coming out. Is it a surprise I ended up gaining weight in the motherland? But in all honesty, it was all worth it.

Here’s one of the traditional sit-down meals we had. Yes, there are plenty of restaurants like this here in Los Angeles but I don’t go to them. I usually go out for a bowl of jajangmyun, soon tofu, or Korean BBQ… etc. I felt so spoiled in Korea gorging during the multi-course meals.

The great thing about Korean cuisine is that it’s healthy – no preservatives or unhealthy oils in the meal. However, there is lots of garlic and sesame oil which I love. For those who don’t know why sesame oil has a special place in my heart, have to listen to this.

I loved looking across the table and seeing all the vibrant colors. The tastes were bold. In Korean cooking there’s a lot of pickled vegetables and spicy food so be open to new flavors. There’s also a mix of fish and meat for protein at the table. The vegetarians in our group did have a bit of a hard time with some of the prix fixe meals. My advice to vegetarians and vegans, plan ahead and be sure to check menus before you decide where you’re going to eat when you’re in Korea.

I think I feel myself getting full just by reliving my meals. Our food journey is just beginning so be sure to come back with an empty stomach next time for some more bites and reads.