My country, My cuisine: Korea

May 14, 2010

Especially the chili-laced, fermented cabbage called kimchi and the abundance of pickled and fresh vegetables.

So as we continue our monthly series - My country, My cuisine - I wanted to learn more from someone who literally grew up eating it everyday.

Beverly Kim grew up in a home filled with the flavors of South Korea. It led to a career as a chef. But when she seeks reminders of her mom's home-cooking, she ventures up to the city's far North Side, to San Soo Gab San, right next to Rosehill Cemetary.

"It's a great place to go out. Obvioulsy my mom could cook kalbi, but it's actually much more fun to have charcoal grill," she said.

The kalbi she refers to is marinated beef short rib, thinly-sliced, cooked at your table, but more on that later. We begin with a hearty seafood pancake.

"This is called haemul pajun. It's a seafood and green onion pancake. It's a very celebratory appetizer," said Kim.

Then we snack on chap chae, one of Korea's most popular noodle dishes, made from potato starch.

"'s sauteed in a little sesame oil, a little bit of bulgogi - Korean sliced beef, some scallions and spinach and carrots," Kim said.

Kim then orders a bowl of soup, which arrives in a fiery-hot clay pot.

"Koreans love the feeling of hot broth, because it kind of warms your body - Korea has four seasons."
"This is called soon doo boo jee gae.
- Soon doo boo jee gae? And there's tofu I saw.
It's really soft tofu. And this is what I really love, the curds of tofu."

Then it's time for kalbi. Before the beef arrives, a litany of small, vegetarian side dishes - called panchan - are set before us.

"Koreans don't just get one-dish meals. They don't. It's a communal cuisine. It's about sharing.
- But the themes here are cabbage and radish.
Cabbage and radish. We also have soy bean sprouts, cucumbers, mountain greens...throughout your meal, if you're like, 'oh I need something a little bit crunchy and sour,' you'll go for the kimchi. Or I need something to tame down the spice, you'll go for maybe the egg omelet," said Kim.

Kim shows me how to dab the grilled beef with sanjang - a chunky bean paste similar to miso - then add some lightly-grilled garlic and a bit of scallion. The package is wrapped up in a crisp lettuce leaf and summarily devoured.

"Beverly, how do you say this is delicious? Because it is delicious.
- No a ju ma si sseo seeo yo.
No a ju ma si sseo seeo yo. Fantastic. And cheers?
- Gan Bae."
Gan Bae. Thank you so much.
- Thank you. This is awesome."

Don't forget the giant bottles of OB Korean beer to go with your meal. And be warned: the barbeque tables fill up pretty quickly after seven o'clock, so make reservations.

San Soo Gab San
5251 N. Western Ave.

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