Eating Korean

everything and anything about Korean cuisine

KTown Night Market

I braved the crazy crowds and hideous parking of the KTown Night Market on Friday at the Robert F. Kennedy school in KTown. Luckily, we went early enough before the crowds got worse. I was doing photo coverage for the event for the LA Times Daily Dish. You can see my slide show of photos here.

The nice thing about taking photos for the paper was that I could cut through all the lines and sneak around the back to talk to the chefs and all the people prepping the food. Some of the highlights were:

- Smokey grilled pork ribs from the pork restaurant Hamjipark. They make a delicious spicy gamja tang (pork neck stew with potatoes), which is a stick-to-your ribs kind of Korean hot pot.

- Brian Huskey of Top Chef fame made a chicken sandwich so tall that he had to put a shishkabob skewer through it to keep it all in place!

- The okonomiyaki from Gaja, a Japanese joint in Lomita. At the restaurant proper, you can customize your own okonomiyaki or monjayaki (a modern version) on a tabletop griddle.

- Strawberry snow from I-Sweet. a dessert gem in the City of Industry, just outside the Puente Hils mall. They use only fresh fruit in all their desserts, and you can taste the difference.

- Takoyaki from Tanota in bite-sized balls of dough cooked golden brown and hot from the specially shaped griddles.

There was also delicious Chinese-style ramen made by a couple of Japanese guys, La Sriracha Macha, Mexican-Asian hot sauce blended by Lincoln Lee, and food trucks galore!

I hope they do a night market in KTown again. Maybe next year, it’ll be better organized with fewer crowds and better parking.

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Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen

Last year, I was asked to give some advice on Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen, their new cookbook on international cuisine. What a pleasant surprise to see a copy of it in my post office box this week!


It’s a colorful, fun book put together by David Joachim. The Asian section is a bit light, but then again, I am a bit biased, aren’t I? It’s an excellent overview of foods from all around the world with a healthy spin, of course. Here’s a nice recipe on bibimbap with the requisite fried egg, of course.


I haven’t cooked anything from it yet, but I’m sure I’ll be reaching for it soon as summer BBQ season starts. Makes me want to pack my bags and start traveling the world!

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Writing for the Los Angeles Time Daily Dish

I am now the new writer/blogger for the Los Angeles Times Daily Dish! My beat is Koreatown (naturally).

Here’s my first restaurant scounting at Cho Mak, a grilled fish joint on Western:,0,7038745.story

And here’s this week’s review of Gamja Bawi, a hidden joint in the food court of the Koreatown Plaza:,0,3404835.story

I’ll be reviewing a lesser-known restaurant every week. I’ll also be covering events, doing round-ups of restaurants specializing in a certain dish, highlighting chefs, etc., etc.

This is for all you peeps who ask me where to go eat in K-Town. This is my weekly love letter to you!

Now, time to go eat!

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Did Someone Say Dried Kimchi?

That’s right. Dried. Kimchi. I did a double take when I was perusing the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Professional curiosity got the better of me, and the package ended up in my basket. I left it on the table for a couple of days before opening it up.

I opened the package and peered inside. It looks just like what you would expect dried kimchi to look like. I wondered why they would make a product like this. The package suggests using it as a condiment, putting it in your ramen. Why would you do that when you can put in real, plump juicy kimchi?

I poured it out and the entire contents of the $3.99 package fit into a small bowl. It smelled vaugely like kimchi, but didn’t have that delicious pungent odor you would expect from opening a package.

But how does it taste? Would it be too obviously to say that it tastes like freeze dried kimchi? They did to kimchi what they did to ice cream to make it useful for astronauts. They sucked all the liquid out of it and made it a dry and crispy husk of its former self. The first thing that struck me was how salty it was.

I turned over the package and gasped for two reasons. 1) This tiny package supposedly had a serving size of 4. Obviously, not designed for Koreans. And, 2) the sodium content was astronomical — 2,400 mg per serving! Now, I understood why the serving size was 1/4 teaspoon. 2,400 mg is the US recommended daily allowance of sodium per person. I don’t think they could, in good conscience, offer a product that had a per serving content of more than the US RDA of salt. Although they call it a “delicious and healthful snack.” I would not call it delicious. I would not call it healthful. And I would definitely not call it a snack.

I wondered what quality of kimchi they used to dry in the first place. The next time my mom comes over with her baechu kimchi, I may have to get out the food dehydrator and find out what happens. In the meantime, I may have to figure out a delicious use for dried kimchi. Got any ideas?

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Mexican Cooking Demo at Traveler’s Bookcase in L.A.

Come join me for a special evening where I’ll be doing a cooking demonstration and sampling recipes from my latest cookbook, “Quick and Easy Mexican Cooking!”

Traveler’s Bookcase
8375 West Third Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-0575

Friday, October 19, 2012

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Folsom Whole Foods here I come!

Just a quick note to all you Northern California peeps, I’ll be in Folsom doing a signing and cooking demo for my cookbook, Quick and Easy Mexican Cooking.

Saturday, July 7th

Noon – 2pm

at the Whole Foods in Folsom

270 Palladio Parkway

Folsom, CA 95630 USA


quick and easy mexican at folsom whole foods

See you there!

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CJ Food World in Seoul

When I was in Seoul, I was invited to tour CJ Food World, a food court of restaurants and brands owned by South Korea’s largest food company CJ.

First stop, Bibigo.

This was CJ Food’s new concept restaurant, somewhat inspired by Chipotle, it’s a “fast-food” version of bibimbap. But unlike Chipotle, the choices are not so simple and building your bowl is a little bit complicated. (I also am not a fan of the idea of “Korean tapas,” whatever that means.)

Regardless, I was served a fresh bibimbap bowl. It lacked the soul of Korean flavor, but it wasn’t bad, and definitely healthy.

We toured the rest of the location, including VIPS, CJ’s answer to the steak house.

There was also Loco Curry, a fast food curry joint.

The Tofu House was a clean-line, exposed wood place that served healthy tofu dishes.

They also had a nice noodle joint, with freshly made kalgooksu.

The unfortunately named China Factory, is one of their newer restaurant concepts. I really enjoyed my meal at the one in Daehang-no. A full review will follow shortly.

They even had a flower shop.

And a store where you can buy many of CJ’s products.

Seeing the array, you can see how huge they really are. Here are a line of their jjangajji (pickling) vinegars.

They even had a test kitchen for kids (note the cute heart-shaped frying pans and such). Unfortunately, they only have cooking workshops in Korean.

I’m a sucker for bread displays and the one in Tous les Jours is made with real bread (I had to check!).

We finished off our tour with some Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. No, CJ doesn’t make them, but they brought the popular American chain into Korea under their umbrella.

Not bad for a company started by selling sugar, right? It’s a good place to bring a group or your kids, if you can’t decide what to have for lunch. But then again, the plethora of choices might make your head explode!

CJ Food World
Seoul-si, Jung-gu, Ssangnim-dong 292
On the basement level (and a bit on the 1st floor) of the CJ Tower in Jongno
Take subway line 2, 4 or 5 to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (exit 6)
It’s less than a 5-minute walk from there.
Open daily 11 am to 10pm

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Good Food LA and Cabbage Cooking Contest

Come enter your kimchi recipe for the first annual Good Food LA event at Metabolic Studios. I’m going to be one of the preliminary judges!

Even if you don’t enter the cooking contest, come join us this Saturday, March 31st!

good food la poster

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Yanggu and the DMZ

Just before Kim Jong-Il died, my Aunt Jumi and I had made a reservation to visit Yanggu and go to the observatory platform there. Yanggu and the “Punchbowl” village was where the bloodiest battles were fought during the Korean war. It’s the closest you can get in the DMZ to North Korea without actually crossing the border.

It’s called the “punchbowl” btw, because some American correspondent called it that, seeing the geography of the region while flying overhead. (Unfortunately, my photo does not do it justice.)

Of course, the day we had made our reservation was the day after Kim Jong-Il died. So, they called us from the tourist info office in Yanggu and told us we couldn’t go since things were uncertain. Luckily, we were able to go a couple of days later. However, it turned out to be both good and bad. It had snowed a ton the day before, so the road to the observatory was closed.

I couldn’t go look at North Korea, but I did get a chance to visit the 4th Infiltration Tunnel (so named, since it was the 4th of the tunnels dug by North Korean soldiers, that the South Koreans discovered). I was the only one on the whole tour (since my aunt had an attack of claustrophobia as we were entering), so it was just me, a soldier and the guide. We walked through a tunnel to get to the tunnel and rode a rickety monorail train into the first 100 meters of the tunnel. The guide showed me some dynamite marks and tracks laid out by the North Koreans and then we rode the rickety train back and walked out. Not worth a special trip, but I’m glad I saw it.

Then, we went to Dutayeon, the nature preserve and river, that had been salvaged from land littered with mines. That land, now a special military base, was part of North Korea for a time. The North Koreans had covered what used to be small farms with thousands of mines. The South Koreans got a hold of it when the ceasefire happened. And after decades, they cleared some of the mines and made it a nature preserve.

We arrived in the afternoon and two ladies there greeted us in the nicest fashion and asked if we had lunch. We hadn’t had time to eat because we were busy touring the tunnel. Concerned, they made us ramen.

And gave us kimchi that they had made, which was really tasty, too!

My aunt and I were the only ones on the tour. And when we arrived, the entire area was blanketed with virgin snow, still undisturbed from the previous night’s storm.

On the other side, over the ridge is North Korea.

The path was wide, but the winter sun was starting to set already.

On either side of the path were barbed wire fencing and signs that warned of mines.

The one good side effect of the Korean war, was this unintended nature preserve created because the area was too dangerous for humans to tread, but fine enough for the light-footed animals — the deer, mountain goats, rabbits and birds that lived in the area.

The beautiful scenery had a section that highlighted the remnants of war — pieces of artillery, soldiers’ helmets, army rations and spent mines found in the area.

If you get a chance to visit Gangwon-do and the lesser traveled parts of the DMZ, plan ahead for a trip to Yanggu. You’ll be rewarded with warm Korean hospitality (although the ladies at the tourist office will probably not make you ramen) and beautiful scenery, dotted with remnants of Korea’s not-so-distant violent past.

This particular trip was poignant for me, not only because of Kim Jong-Il’s death, but since it may be the last trip that my Jumi-imo and I will be able to take together. In her quiet resolve, she neglected the cancer that had been growing inside her for so long that it has spread to her bones now. And I fear that she doesn’t have much time left. At least, she was able to enjoy the kindness of strangers and a pristine nature that seemed to have been preserved for our benefit.

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Hole in the Wall Restaurant in Gangneung

Of all the hole in the wall restaurants I’ve been to in my life (and in my profession I have been to many), this was the most “hole in the wall” place I’ve ever been to.

In the shopping district in Gangneung, there’s a Baskin Robbins on the main drag. If you turn into a tiny alley to the right of the ice cream shop, you have to walk single file because it’s so narrow only one person can squeeze through at a time.

In this dark alley that even a bicycle can’t fit through, there is a shack, an old, old house that they run a restaurant out of. It’s called Geum-ak Kalgooksu.

You step inside the run-down old place and you have to call into the kitchen so that they know you’re there. There’s no menu; all they make is kalgooksu (handmade noodles). They tell you to go inside and have a seat and the room took be back to my childhood growing up in Korea in the 1970s.

I don’t think the room has been renovated since the 70s. It looks just like the room my siblings and I used to sleep in behind my mom’s beauty salon. There were only 3 tables inside and plain brown wrap wallpaper that had been written on by people who’ve frequented the place.

There’s just a little sign on the wall that has also been graffitied letting you know that a bowl of rice will cost you an extra W1000.

The handmade “knife” noodles arrives swimming in a spicy broth, that tastes like 1975, too. It had an anchovy-based broth with bits of gim (dried seaweed) and ggae (sesame seeds) generously sprinkled on top.

It was served with a side of kimchi. That was it.

For W6000 I got to taste my childhood again. I think for that price, it was a bargain.

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