A taste of Korea on the city's North Side

May 15, 2009 (CHICAGO) The Korean kitchen is a model of organizational skill. Many of the dishes are prepared to order, and require a lot of advance planning. Take the haemul pajun and dolsot bibimbop for example. The former, a seafood pancake; the latter, a stone bowl of rice and veggies. Both dishes are part of the everyday menu at Solga, a popular Korean restaurant on Chicago's far North Side.

"Haemul pajun and dolsot bibimbop are the most famous food in Korean community. It is so delicious," said Kwang Byun, owner of Solga.

The haemul pajun begins with a thickish batter laced with tons of green onions. An assortment of seafood, such as mussels, shrimp and squid are scattered around the pan, while some matchsticks of green and red bell pepper are placed carefully around the top.

"Haemul pajun is mixed with flour and rice powder and green onions, lots of vegetables mixed together. It's really healthy and good food," Byun said.

The skillet is heated gently, just until it begins to set. After about four minutes, the pancake is flipped over and then pressed down, cooking the seafood side. After another five minutes, it's flipped over again. And once the pancake has browned slightly, it is flipped - somewhat dramatically - onto the plate.

A side of sesame-flecked soy dipping sauce arrives alongside, providing a salty foil to the savory wedges of pancake.

The dolsot bibimbop is another story. At Solga, it begins with either white or brown rice, then each vegetable component is carefully placed around it: cucumbers, carrots, spinach and mushrooms are typical. However, each Korean restaurant has its own recipe. The stone bowl is heated on the stove, and a briefly-fried egg is placed over the top.

At the table, you can add some spicy Korean chili paste, then mix everything up, being sure to scrape up the sticky bits of rice that have, by now, formed at the bottom. It's colorful, it's tasty, and best of all, it's good for you.

"No artificial flavor on it. So, it's actually like organic health food," said the owner.

Korean food has a little something for everybody: from seafood to beef, and a whole host of vegetables, although many of them are pickled. It gives everybody a chance to try something a little bit exotic.

The best place to find Korean food in Chicago is along West Lawrence Street. However, if you don't want to go out, there are two new books out for aspiring home cooks: Quick and Easy Korean Cooking and The Korean Table, both of which are available in stores.

5828 N. Lincoln Ave.

For more information about Korean restaurants in the area:
Chicago Korean American Chamber of Commerce

Quick and Easy Korean Cooking
By Cecilia Hae-jin Lee (Chronicle Books)

The Korean Table
By Taekyung Chung and Debra Samuels (Tuttle)

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