When most people think of Korean food, Korean BBQ is probably one of the most common thoughts that pop into mind. Images of sizzling pieces of tender meat on a cast iron plate or smoke produced from meat over a charcoal grill are what come to mind. Scratch that. What used to come to mind. I've recently come across so-called Korean comfort food from Seongbukdong in Koreatown, a restaurant that specializes in Gyeongsang cooking. After reading about this style of home cooking in C. Thi Nguyen's LA Times article and experiencing what she calls the "trinity" of the three most popular dishes, images of steamed kalbi rather than grilled kalbi now permeate the inner thought cavities of my brain.
There's nothing more than can be said about steamed short ribs (galbi jjim) that hasn't already been said by Nguyen, The Thirsty Pig, or Stuffy Cheaks. The meat is so tender that you don't even feel like you're chewing. It's not the same as gnawing on grilled kalbi and working your teeth around the bone. Here, the meat has already been stripped from the bone by the service staff upon setting the porcelain bowl down on the table. It's hard not to have just one chunk of beef. The salty and sweet (soy sauce and sugar perhaps) flavor combination keeps you from putting your chopsticks down.
The braised mackerel is what made it really hard to put my chopsticks down. But unless you're amazingly adept at grasping chopsticks, fish, and bones simultaneously, you have to put your chopsticks down in order to get all the bones out of the spiny fish. The mackerel is blanketed by a mound of kimchi... the flavor is rich, salty, and spicy... and absolutely amazing-delicious.
On the two separate occassions I've visited Seongbukdong, I've also ordered the rice soup (gook bap) and kimchi stew (kimchi chigae). The gook bap is great to have with the spicy braised mackerel and the salty and sweet steamed short ribs. It gives you the warmth of chicken noodle soup but the heartiness of a tomato soup (although neither chicken, noodle, or tomato are amongst the ingredients used to prepare the gook bap). I felt almost cleansed with each spoonful of gook bap. The gook bap washes the sauce from the braised mackerel's kimchi away like the way the rain takes the pollution from the sky. Mmmmm... this would be great to have on a rainy day. Or... great to have any day. Both Karin and one of the staff say that gook bap is one of their favorites.
The kimchi chigae is not my favorite here because it's more sour than I would like, but the service staff say that Seongbukdong is known for their kimchi chigae. It tasted authentic, and Tiffany didn't mind it, but I still enjoy a kimchi chigae that's less sour and more spicy.
Some of my favorite banchan are the pepper with fermented bean paste, the sweet red beans, and of course, the huge chunk of steamed egg. But I still can't get over the mackerel's fatty meat enshrouded in the little quilts of kimchi. It's not everyone's favorite, but it's definitely mine. Based on the reviews on Yelp and comments from other bloggers, I'm definitely coming back for the marinated spicy pork. I'm dreaming out it already...
Read the post on Seongbukdong from The Thirsty Pig here.
Read the post on Seongbukdong from Stuffy Cheaks here.
Read the post on Seongbukdong from Food Pants here.
Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.
ML - 20100901