CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
A pot of Chicken Soup with Ginseng is surrounded by dishes of condiments from Jalgalchi Korean Restaurant.
Nothing wrong with kalbi, bulgogi and mandoo, but the Korean menu offers so much more
STORY SUMMARY »
Most folks think kalbi or kim chee when they think of Korean food. But there are other choices for those willing to go beyond the usual barbecue fast-food fare. Or beyond karoke bars and late-night hangouts.
In fact, there are at least three different types of Korean cuisine here in Hawaii, according to Walter Rhee, a freelance food writer and food tour guide: traditional, Americanized cooking modified to suit local tastes and "rad" or "fusion" cooking that combines Korean with another popular style, such as Japanese.
"Traditional Korean cooking does not use much oil, and uses many fresh vegetables," said Rhee. "Because of this, it's very healthy for you. The mainstay meat is beef. The primary condiments are red pepper paste (ko chu jang), Korean miso (dwen jahng) and soy sauce.
"Then what is unique about Korean cooking is that it will use the 'push and pull' of the ingredients to create a dish."
Dishes were often shared because food was scarce, but in order to impress guests, many side dishes were served. "The number of side dish choices in a Korean meal corresponds to the stature of the guest," Rhee noted. "Traditionally, there was no refrigeration, so Korean dishes were prepared either pickled or freshly sautéed."
And to make a single animal last longer for an entire family, Koreans developed a variety of soup dishes. "At a typical Korean restaurant there will be over 15 types of broths, usually to accompany rice," Rhee said.
With so much to choose from, why stick to kalbi?
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Yakiniku Koryowon (Korea House)
1625 Kapiolani Blvd., 944-1122
(parking in restaurant lot)
Open 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Yakiniku Koryowon Soon-Nyo Park cooks Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap and shows how it comes out sizzling when presented to the customer.
Careful with your hands, you might burn them on the black bowl of Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap (mixed vegetables in hot stone pot)! The meal literally sizzles as it's served.
"I think the hot pot was for winter time and the cold plate was for summer time," speculated waiter Seung-Woo Oh on the two traditional varieties of this dish. The cold version includes raw beef, and a third version is hot with raw beef.
A small amount of marinated beef is mixed in the mainly vegetable-and-rice version that's cooked in sesame oil, and presented in a steaming hot bowl. Carrots, zucchini, and an egg yolk decorate the dish.
Ten (count them!) side dishes are included: slices of Korean pancake (tempura, chives, red pepper); squid and cucumber; kim chee; potatoes in sweet sauce; cooked lotus root; green onion roots in kim chee sauce; shredded daikon; choi sam in sesame sauce; bean sprouts; and "water kim chee" soup (radish and cabbage in a hot soup).
About the restaurant: Wife and husband co-owners 40-year-old Soon-Nyo Park and 41-year-old Jong-Ho Park came to Hawaii in 1993 from Seoul, so that Jong-Ho could join his family.
They owned a liquor store downtown, then decided to switch to the restaurant business because Soon-Nyo liked to cook. "My mom used to cook in restaurants in South Korea, and I learned from her," she explained through a translator. "We took over Yakiniku Koryowon in 2001 because we wanted to try something different.
"Locals really like Korean food - more than 50 percent of our customers are locals."
911 Keeaumoku St., No. 101-A, 946-3377
(validated parking in rear off Liona Street)
Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays
Pumpkin Porridge (Ho Bak Jook) is a delicately sweet mixture of cooked pumpkin, rice powder (for a gelatinous texture), red beans, carrots, mushrooms, Korean onions and overcooked rice in a thick soup paste. It's served with four separate side dishes of watercress, radish and cucumber; spicy Mexican pepper kim chee; regular Korean kim chee; and spinach with sesame seeds and oil.
"Our porridge is very healthy for you," said 62-year-old owner Soon-Yong Hahm through Eun-Suk Lim, a frequent customer who translated for her. "Although it's especially good for a stomachache, it can be eaten every day to help your digestion and to keep you strong."
The porridge comes in nine other flavors: black sesame seeds, red beans, mung beans, cold turnip, shrimp, seafood, vegetables, pine nuts and fresh, whole abalone.
About the restaurant: Born in Seoul, South Korea, owner Soon-Yong Hahm attended cooking school in Pusan, then became a cook as well as a teacher at the school. "One day I cooked for about 1,000 people in a special party," she reminisced.
A business opportunity opened up for her husband down the street in the Sam Sung Plaza, so in 1996 Hahm immigrated with him to Hawaii. "But I missed all the cooking I did in Korea," she said. "I didn't just want to be a housewife."
So about a year ago Hahm opened Well-Being Porridge. "I enjoy cooking for other people. Cooking is my hobby."
Eun-Suk Lim frequents Well-Being several times a week. "I just love everything about this place," Lim said. "The people, the food, the atmosphere - just everything!"
Jagalchi Korean Restaurant
1334 Young St., No.106, 593-8830
(parking in front lot)
Open 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Chicken Soup with Ginseng (Sam Kae Tang) is Korea's answer to the chicken soup your mom would give you when you're sick, but on a much larger scale.
"This used to be traditional palace food, only for royalty," explained 47-year-old manager Mi Kim, "but nowadays it can be eaten all the time. The ginseng gives you energy and helps you when you're sick, and makes you strong when you're not."
An entire Cornish hen is stuffed with mochi rice, ginseng, dates, garlic, chestnuts and green onions, then boiled in water for at least an hour until the meat falls off the bone. It's all served bubbling hot in a stone bowl. A tasty black wild rice mixed with white rice (to make purple) accompanies the soup on the side.
"All my dishes are handmade, from my own cooking," said 64-year-old owner Chun Cha Kim. "I don't buy any prepared ingredients at all."
Although the side dishes change from day to day ("We serve at least eight to 10 side dishes with each meal," noted Chun Cha), they can include kim chee, daikon kim chee, mung beans, dried seaweed, taegu (dried cod fish), choi sam, shredded daikon, water kim chee (cold soup with carrots, daikon, and cabbage), Korean pancake and - when available - acorn jelly with soy sauce.
About the restaurant: Chun Cha Kim was born in Young Kwang town, in Jul La Nam Do province (famous for its kim chee, according to niece Lucia Yi), in southwest Korea. She came to Hawaii in 1979, when her husband decided to join his sister here. She used to be a "taster" for her mother in Korea, then learned to cook based on that experience.
"My aunt came here when there were almost no Korean restaurants in town," said Yi. "She's the first one to bring the Korean pancake recipe here."
Chun Cha opened her first restaurant in Kalihi 28 years ago. Four others followed in the Ala Moana area; they've been at the Young Street location for 11 years.
Myong Kim, a Tripler Hospital housekeeper, says she comes at least twice a month to Jagalchi. "I've followed them around to their different locations for more than 10 years," said Myong. "They have original Korean cooking - they're not like the fast-food places."