One of my favorite people introduced me to Korean Dramas.
Shockingly she is from Malaysia not Korea, but none the less we bonded over Korean Dramas. In fact, we watched so many of them that we were able to speak some Korean to each other. It was never good, but we tried.
So on a recent trip to New York I stumbled across the promise land. I had been dreaming of going to Sheol since watching Boys Over Flowers. And coming out of the subway station we were landed right in the middle of KoreaTown. ChinaTown I had heard of, but KoreaTown? I didn’t know such a place existed! I was elated and we ran to the first Korean Barbecue restaurant we could find.
It was not my first time having the delicious Asian cuisine, but it was magical even so.
I had watched countless groupings of my now favorite Korean Actors eating their weight in the barbecue that seemed to be in every restaurant in Korea. I watched them drink soju (which is the most famous alcohol in Korean and an absolute must if you’re having Korean barbecue) and wondered what it would taste like.
We didn’t order any because it was a bit out of our price range, but I have been told that there are certain rules that go along with drinking soju. When I finally have some, I will share the rules and history behind it.
I thought I would have to buy a ticket to Sheol to try any of this, which I was more than willing to do.
But here, on a random subway stop on 6th and Broadway my dreams came true.
We walked into the restaurant out of the freezing cold and got seated at a table with a golden pole above it. My friend and I were the only two white people in the whole place and it was perfect.
We sat down and looked at the menu. In all of my studying (by that I obviously mean watching Korean television) I only recognized 3 dishes.
Being the bold adventurous types that we are, we just smiled and pointed. We had full faith that any Asian food we eat would be perfect and delicious.
After about two minutes of the fantastic wait-staff telling us what their favorites were, our table was full of kimchi and beans and soy beans and what we thought was salsa. The only other Korean Barbecue I had been to was in Chiang Mai in Thailand and it was buffet style. This was much more classy.
If you have never had Korean Barbecue, the most important thing you need to know is that you will cook the food on the table you’re sitting at. If you don’t do cook it on your table its not real Korean Barbecue.
If you are wondering what a safe thing to order because sometimes the menu can be overwhelming with foods you don't know; order the duck. Always order the duck. I don't know how or why, but I have never gone to an asian restaurant and had bad duck. Its impossible I believe.
Before you think that you use the chopsticks to eat such incredible food, lets talk about this. There is a particular way to eat Korean Barbecue or Korean ssam style. This means you’re eating with your hands, so make sure you wash up. At a fancy Korean restaurant they will provide hot towels for you. Then there will be a bed of lettuce on your table and this is what you’re piling up the deliciousness on.
On the table there will be numerous things like bean sprouts, kimchi, a green onion salad mung bean jelly, braised beans (which I ate in their entirety.. sorry Marissa..) grilled zucchini and squash. There are also sauces and vegetables and seeds and garlic and all types of things to add to your lettuce wrap. Once you have put everything you want on it, you eat it in one bite. That might change the amount of ingredients that you put in.
It is probably one of my favorite dishes to eat AND you get to prepare it yourself which is really cool. If you have never had any food from Korea, let me be the first to tell you to try the braised duck. And if you’re in New York, go to Miss Korea Barbecue. They impressed me and I’ve been dreaming about Korean food for two years now.
But don’t let me be the one to tell you. Find a Korean Barbecue restaurant near you and try it for yourself.
Here are some Korean words to practice before you go in.
Hello: annyeonghaseyo [sounds like an-young-ha-say-oh]
Thank you: kamsahamnida [sounds like calm-sa-ham-ne-da]
Luckily most places in the states will speak English and are very helpful.
I whole heartedly believe in eating the food of other cultures because even if you can’t speak the language, the food is universal.