Ethnic dishes offer big flavors

November 12, 2010 (CHICAGO)

What do you get when you combine Mexican corn tortillas with Korean barbecue? Something along the lines of Del Seoul, a new kind of taqueria in Lincoln Park inspired by the famous Korean taco trucks of Los Angeles.

"Korean barbecue is just deliciously marinated meats with soy, lots of chilies, garlic, and, you know, it's grilled over a hot flame wrapped in lettuce," said Peter Jeon, owner of Del Seoul.

But at Del Seoul, the pork or beef are finely chopped, placed into tortillas and buried beneath a semi-spicy salad of crunchy cabbage and Asian greens, super-charged by chili mayo and Korea's beloved gojujang, or red pepper paste.

"So what we wanted to do is capture all the Korean flavors in a taco. And just kind of use the taco as a way of kind of delivering Korean BBQ," Jeon said.

In the West Loop, Vietnamese ingredients and slow-cooked pork belly meet a puffy Taiwanese bun called gua bao at Saigon Sisters, which also has a small kiosk in the nearby French Market. The result is a tiny package packing a lot of flavor.

"Well, they're called banh bao. It's a steamed rice flour bun. So, they're really light and fluffy. They've got a nice subtle sweetness to them, and we're filling them with top-quality ingredients and really some interesting flavor combinations," said Mat Eversman, the chef at Saigon Sisters.

Dutch pork belly is brined in sugar, salt, bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and braised overnight in veal demi-glace, chicken stock, anise and cinnamon.

"We allow it to cool down in its liquid so it soaks up all those great spice flavors. And then once it's cooled down, we slice it and we glaze it with a hoisin-based glaze," said Eversman.

Toppings include pickled daikon radish and fresh cilantro, maybe a little jalapeno and some more of that sweet, sticky hoisin.

"The bun is just the vehicle of getting you those great flavors," Eversman said.

So, there do seem to be a couple of themes when trying to pack a lot of flavor into a small package like vegetables, typically pickled, or something salty like soy or sweet like hoisin, or definitely something earthy and rich, like pork belly in the bao.

The bahn bao are sold individually or in three-packs with a choice of pork belly, beef or chicken.

Del Seoul
2568 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 248-4227

Saigon Sisters
567 W. Lake St.
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 496-0090

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