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every dish has a story

Hwae Dup Bap (Korean Sashimi Salad)Mar 04, 2012

By the time I entered college, I thought of myself as a rather experienced eater. Born and raised in a multicultural family in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had been exposed to all sorts of foods from the get-go and was rarely fazed by anything "weird" (Chicken feet? Sure. Alligator tail? No problem. Crab innards? Give it to me over rice.) And my young adult self was certain that there was no cuisine I had yet to conquer.

Then I met the guy who is now my husband, and he proceeded to rock my world with the marvels of Korean food. Yeah, I had experienced plenty of barbecue and jjigaes (stews) by then, but one night he took me to a Korean-owned sushi joint tucked away in a tiny Oakland strip mall, and he ordered us two heaping bowls of hwae dup bap that seriously changed my life.

According to my loose understanding of the Korean language, hwae dup bap translates to raw fish over rice, and while it lacks the orchestrated beauty of Japanese chirashi, you can think of it as chirashi's untamed cousin. Everyone has their own version of this dish (my husband remembers his mom making a simple version with just sashimi and rice for church picnics), but the general equation is as follows (from the bottom up): sushi rice, greens, chopped raw fish, fish roe, and a quail egg, drizzled with sesame oil and a vinegary gochujang sauce. It's refreshing, light, but incredibly filling, and it will change the way you think about sashimi. The Japanese girl in me still enjoy a slice of toro delicately dabbed in shoyu and fresh wasabi, but my newfound Korean side absolutely melts for hwae dup bap.

I based this recipe on our spot in the East Bay which included seaweed salad to round out its from-the-sea flavor. If you have access to good quality sashimi and an Asian grocery store, then you'll have all the ingredients you need for this explosive dish. For the recipe, read on.

Bibim Naeng Myun (Spicy Cold Noodles)Jun 19, 2011

I updated this recipe versus the original using some rice vinegar and brown sugar in place of the apple cider and part of the nashi pear. This revised version is much closer to my husband's favorite naeng myun from Soo Ra Myun Ok in Daejeon and Chil Bo Myun Ok in LA. Almost there!

This is the story of one of the greatest love affairs of all time. It involves a boy and a bowl of cold noodles and the lengths to which he will go to be united with his beloved. Our protagonist tells me it began in high school -- at least, that's his earliest memory of it, and it's not the type of meal a kid would enjoy anyway. There was a restaurant in Daejeon where he and his family would go after church. The best in the city, his mom had said. And when he tasted that sweet-tangy-spicy sauce coating those ice cold, chewy noodles, it filled both his stomach and his heart.

For a while, it seemed that these lovers were destined to be star-crossed. He moved to Northern California, and though he knocked on the door of every Korean restaurant, he was met with head-shaking and shrugs. A few of them offered something with the right name, but the first bite unmasked the lie. Then, nearly 20 years later, his wife happened upon a restaurant in LA's Koreatown where the bowls were ice cold, the noodles were perfectly chewy, and they even served the traditional steaming cup of yook soo (beef broth) alongside. On his next trip down south, he stopped in to try it. It had been so many years that his tastebuds could have been mistaken, but the flavor was so fully ingrained in his memory, that if this wasn't the real thing, it sure was close.

So our young man has once again been reunited with his lost love, and now trips to LA have become pilgrimages not only to convene with good friends but also to savor those noodles that have long eluded him. For the recipe, read on.

Yook Soo (Korean Beef Broth)May 26, 2011

Every now and then, I come across a dish that makes me say "DUH!" — yes, a dish so elementary in its concept, it makes me speak like a 14-year-old. Yook soo is beef broth that you drink like tea. DUH. How perfectly genius is that? It's usually served at naeng myun restaurants where the steaming, rich broth offsets the cold spiciness of bibim naeng myun or hwae naeng myun. It's also a great counterpoint to the vinegary tartness of mul naeng myun. I can usually go through a jug of this stuff on my own . . . I don't think that you're supposed to drink that much, hence the strange looks from our servers when I request for my cup to be refilled again and again. But to be honest, I don't really care about appearances when I'm confronted with a seemingly bottomless carafe of yook soo. It's that good.

I made a pot of this a few months ago, and we managed to polish it off rather quickly. So tonight I pulled out the 16-quart stockpot and went to town. As with any rich stock, it needs to simmer for several hours to draw the flavor out from the bones. In fact, as I write this, it's still on the stove. Not sure where I will end up storing it all considering that my freezer is at capacity. Guess we'll just have to drink it. Darn. For the recipe, read on.

Momofuku-style Pork Belly BunsMar 07, 2011

Last month, my husband had a business trip to NYC where he enjoyed his long-awaited meal of hwae naeng myun in Koreatown as well as a much hyped dinner at Momofuku Ssam where he tried those infamous pork belly buns. I was soooooo jealous. Last August, I went to Momofuku Ma Pêche with my coworkers where we ordered the closest thing on the menu and a poor stand-in, slow-cooked pork spareribs. Don't get me wrong: they were lovely, perfectly cooked spareribs, but I really wanted to try that pork belly. So, a little miffed at the fact that my husband conquered one of my food goals for me, I decided to make them at home (of course!).

I found a recipe that adds a few flourishes to the original like rosemary and thyme in the dry brine and gotchujang instead of sriracha for the sauce. Once assembled with the pickled cucumbers and gotchujang, the medley was tasty, but there were three areas in which I felt this recipe was lacking. First, the pork on its own was a salt lick. We were guzzling water all night and through the next day. The meat ended up a little tough, too -- not the moist, succulent pork belly I had envisioned. Finally, I was hoping for a little more sweet (like charsiu pork) next to the spicy and pickly flavors. So, based on the "true" recipe I found online plus my own palatal desires, I have adjusted my recipe according to what I'll do next time. I'm sure that further updates will be necessary! For the recipe, read on.

Daeji BulgogiDec 14, 2010

When I began dating my Korean American husband, I knew I would need to quickly develop a tolerance for spicy food if our relationship had any hope of lasting through the first year. Although I enjoyed some types of spicy foods (mainly Mexican or Latin American dishes and sauces), my family generally stuck to mild but flavorful food: Mom is not particularly fond of spicy, and Dad practically melts into a puddle at the presence of a jalapeño. All of this history should make me mortally fearful of a plate of spicy pork, but last night I confronted daeji bulgogi like a brave armored knight against the dragon, and I have to say: I slayed it.

For the recipe, read on.

Mul KimchiAug 25, 2010

Being Korean American, Dave loves his kimchi. I have learned to enjoy its sour-spiciness, but sometimes I just want a good pickled cabbage or radish to go with my kalbi. Enter mul kimchi. Literally "water kimchi," it's a refreshing, tangy, crunchy bite in between mouthfuls of charred meat and fluffy rice. It's also just slightly spicy, thanks to the seeded chiles that are sprinkled in with the other ingredients.

Read on for the recipe.

HoddeokAug 16, 2010

I tried hoddeok for the first time on our last trip to Seoul. A pancake filled with brown sugar syrup, it's a snack and dessert rolled into one. As we were meandering around some of the shopping districts of the city, we could smell the sweet, syrupy, sugary aroma as we passed the street vendors' booths, and they were simply too hard to pass up.  So we had two!

Read on for the recipe.

Miyuk Guk (Korean Seaweed Soup)Aug 02, 2010

My first encounter with miyuk guk dates back to about 2003: Dave and I were living in Mountain View, and we were fortunate to live near several great Korean restaurants, including Palace BBQ: an all-you-can-eat mecca of smoky-sweet kalbi, bulgolgi, dak gui...and virtually anything else you could wish for. One buffet line was devoted to the raw, marinated meat, another held roughly 30 types of banchan (side dishes), and the table in the back served the mundane -- but necessary -- rice and soup. The first few visits we focused our efforts primarily on the meats and banchan, but on the fourth visit, I wandered past the soup tureens to see if there was anything I was missing.

And then I found it: an enormous vat of dark green, rich-smelling broth imbued with undulating strands of wakame seaweed and bits of tender beef. I scooped up two bowls, and a love was born. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to make, so on cold nights (as most are here in San Francisco), I can whip up a pot to serve alongside our favorite meats or even for a simple dinner with rice and the ubiquitous banchan. Read on for the recipe.

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