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Posts Tagged ‘korean food’

My grandmother makes her mandoo 100% from scratch, and the whole process is a beautiful execution of labor and love. The filling consists of meat and vegetables, each purchased at their respective specialty markets. Efficiency is no issue – she takes the bus to see Mr. Butcher Man on Irving for the best quality meat, and then she treks over to the market on Geary, that one with the good produce. For assemblage, she combines and seasons the meat (pork and beef), chops and cleans the vegetables, mixes them in with the meat to make the filling, stuffs the filling into made-from-scratch wrappers, and seals them good and tight with a solid, yet decorative pinch. The special part of her process (which makes all the difference) is the most arduous – the meat is hand chopped. Apparently ground meat is out of the question as a grind is too fine and thus flavor is lost. Perhaps more importantly, it’s essential to start with a premium cut.

My grandmother is a food purist – she strives for the best of the best homemade-everything, no matter how labor intensive the process – no compromise. Her mandoo is revered in my family, and what she goes through to make these batches of plump little dumplings is truly a rare process among today’s crazy, time-pressed generation. When I think about how customs evolve and dilute over time, I realize how critical it is to pass down to generations to preserve deeply important and sentimental traditions. So, when I was at home a few weeks ago, my mom, dad and I decided to attempt just that. Though we didn’t hand-make the wrappers (which when you’re making over 100 dumplings, feels impossible) we did everything else. I’m still congratulating myself for having handled the meat dicing – quite a feat as I never thought I could touch cold, raw meat, let alone hack into it – but I did it and was proud to contribute to what my grandmother might say is the most critical part of the process.

The final product was delicious…in taste, yes, but more so from the knowledge that we attempted to preserve a tradition and recreate a masterpiece. While I wish she could have been there, I now have an excuse to go through the whole process again with the original Master, and maybe I’ll even get to make the wrappers.

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I have a very simple way of evaluating Korean restaurants: success is based on the banchan it serves. More often than not, banchan is dismissed as “those free side dishes that come with the meal,” and as a result, become tasteless, unrecognizable piles of vegetables or seafood doused in red pepper paste. In my opinion, banchan is the true taste index because it represents the chef’s ability to work with the fundamental ingredients of Korean cooking– garlic, red pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, scallions– and to create variety despite these shared ingredients. In theory, if the chef gets the banchan right, the bigger dishes should deliver.

In the restaurant that is my parent’s house and through the chef that is my mother, I am reminded of this every time she cooks Korean food for me. My mom’s banchan is simple and fresh, and the main ingredient always comes through. She turns sesame oil, salt, scallions and red pepper flakes into magical fairy dust that transforms broccoli and eggplant into dishes that can make me forget about every other dish on the table (all of which, as you now know, do pass the taste test).

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You know how when you go to a Korean restaurant and order Kalbi (Korean BBQ), there are all these techniques you employ to address the whole smokey-meat-smell issue? Like, you turn your coat inside out, you spritz your hair with perfume once you’re outside, and you sort of avoid getting close to people in general. Well, eating Kalbi at home necessitates its own set of precautionary measures – though not nearly as vain. Protecting clothes isn’t so much the issue as protecting the other rooms in the house. All bedroom doors are closed. All windows in the house are opened. And getting close to people isn’t really an issue at all because after consuming such a massive quantity of food in such close proximity to a bedroom, the only option that remains is rolling into bed (which thankfully, behind the tightly closed door, smells only of fresh laundry), watching reruns of Law & Order SVU, and then falling asleep, blissfully and utterly unobligated.

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hell. yeah.

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img_0083.jpgSo, I realize that this isn’t exactly a proud (or healthy) statement for many, but I really love emotional eating. Not the kind where you have a pint of ice cream melting away in your lap as ballads play in the background…no, I’m talking about the kind where you’ve been sick for 2 days and when you finally get your appetite back, the only thing that makes you feel better is food that reminds you of warm, happy times of the past. Ok, so maybe the ice cream scenario isn’t all that different, but this story ends with me feeling good about myself – not angry and fat.

I’ve spent the past 2 days in bed, getting up only to heat up some canned soup – which actually wasn’t that bad. In fact, warm soup was really the only thing that made my throat feel better. But 2 days of soup is boring, and so tonight, when I finally started to feel like I might be able to try some normal food, I knew I’d be ordering in from Kofoo, the tiny, hole-in-the-wall Korean place on 8th Avenue. Nothing would hit the spot better than some good, clean, tasty Korean food that could easily have been made from the hands of my mama.

One order of Bulgogi Kimbap is a hefty enough portion. You get 12 rolls: carrots, cucumber, daikon radish, egg, marinated beef (bulgogi) and sticky white rice, all tightly bound in a thin, shiny sheet of toasted gheem (aka nori/laver). Kimbap is great for people who like to get a little bit of everything in one bite…or people who are obsessed with making everything come out even…like me. You get neat, tasty little packages that so follow the rules of the nutrition pyramid: rice? check. veggies? check. meat? check. sparing oils? check (from the sesame oil that’s brushed on top of the gheem). ok, no dairy, but sorry, there ain’t alot of dairy in Korean food. Plus, they’re just pretty with all the colors blooming from the middle. They even subconsciously compel you to form the shape of a flower when you arrange them on a plate, look:

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i think the eggs are smiling at me…

FYI, consider this a preview to upcoming posts on some seriously good Korean food – going home next week and I believe there is some kimchi being prepared as I type this.
 
KOFOO
334 8th Avenue (between 26th & 27th Streets)
New York, NY 10001

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