Tips on enjoying Korean food

How to consume all this deliciousness?

How to consume all this deliciousness?

Along with a rich heritage of delicious foods, the Korean table also has developed some approaches of how to enjoy the various dishes. Some of these are based in traditional rituals and beliefs while others are based on practical responses to Korean food itself. We want our customers to enjoy our food in whatever way suits them best but thought you might find these tidbits interesting as well!  

  1. In many East Asian cultures, it is considered a taboo to leave chopsticks sticking out of your bowl of rice, because this is how food is offered at ancestral graves.
  2. Soups and stews are typically eaten with a spoon. Korean elders consider it rude when people dig around a soup/stew with chopsticks (maybe because stews are often served in a communal bowl and it suggests that an individual is digging around for their favorite morsel!)
  3. Meat with bones are commonly eaten with hands (so don't hesitate to pick up our LA Galbi!) Meat without bones (like our bulgogi) are eaten with chopsticks.
  4. Rice is almost always eaten with every hot soup. Rice can be spooned right into the soup and mixed in to be eaten together, or vice versa or separately. 
  5. Koreans typically eat bibimbap with a spoon after mixing all the ingredients together, rather than picking out and eating the different vegetables individually with chopsticks. This way, you get all the flavors in each bite!
  6. Koreans also often (but not always) spoon up some rice and use their chopstick to put a piece of kimchi or other food on top and then put the whole thing in their mouth to get the mix of flavors.

L.A. Galbi - our latest special

When my family moved from Seoul to Los Angeles in the 90s, one of the foods we immediately embraced was "LA Galbi". We had had Galbi in Korea before but only the traditional kind - where the meat was cut around the rib, marinated and cooked on a grill. In L.A., the Galbi was cut across the rib with the thin juicy meat alongside, which allowed for a faster cooking time, which in turn led to a more tender and flavorful result.

It's one of my favorite "fusion foods" - Galbi born in Los Angeles. Origins story vary but however it came to be, we're happy to share it with you as our next special dish. Our version is flavorful, moist and tender. It will be available until end of February so be sure to come by to check it out!

Four essential Korean sauces

Another aspect of distinctive Korean cooking are the sauces. Korean cooks often have their own twist on a given sauce, whether it's stir frying dried red chili in oil to make the base of a spicy soup to adding ground pears to a meat marinade (it helps tenderize the meat).

But the basic foundations of Korean sauces don't change and most cooks would agree that the most important ones in Korean cooking are Gochujang (fermented red chili pepper paste), Daeng-jang (fermented soy bean paste), Soy sauce, and Sesame oil. Combined with more universal ingredients like vinegar, sugar, salt, ground pepper and various herbs like green onions and garlic, they can make for a universe of flavors. They can range from the simplest (try a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil in plain white rice with a fried egg on top - it's delicious) to the complex (gochujang, daengjang in equal parts mixed with finely minced garlic and sliced green onions and a bit of sesame oil creates the perfect sauce to top grilled meat in a lettuce wrap).

At Kimchi Kitchen, these four sauces are on display throughout our menu, whether it's the marinade in our spicy pork or the light sauce in our japchae noodles. We won't give away our secret sauce but you can come try some!

Say kimchi!

Kimchi is arguably Korea's most distinctive dish and definitely one of its most beloved. I have memories of my parents packing kimchi on every camping trip (even on a four hour drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite) - they just had to make sure they had some in case they got the craving. For those who are interested in this wonderful dish, I've assembled some fun kimchi facts (they can also make for interesting conversation tidbits at holiday gatherings :):

  • Koreans eat about 40 pounds of kimchi per person per year
  • While cabbage kimchi is the most familiar version of kimchi to non-Koreans, actually there are many different types of kimchi that Koreans eat at home. Kimchi can be made from daikon, cucumbers, and/or radish greens. At Kimchi Kitchen, we regularly offer napa cabbage kimchi.
  • Kimchi is a pro-biotic food, containing lactobacilli (same healthy bacteria as in yogurt). In addition, kimchi provides a lot of vegetable fiber and contains other vegetables with studied health benefits such as garlic and chili peppers
  • Koreans often say "Kimchi" instead of "Cheese" when posing for photos
  • There is a Korean urban legend that Korea was relatively spared in the 2003 SARS epidemic because of the health benefits of kimchi (check out this article here)
  • Steep rise in prices of Napa cabbage in Korea is an issue of national crisis (seriously - see this article)

Have no fear, Korean popcorn chicken is here... to stay

Our first special dish, the Korean popcorn chicken (닭강정) has been so popular that we've decided to add it to our regular menu. We've heard comments from customers such as "I can live on this" and "please don't take it off the menu until I come back next time". So have no fear - come visit us and continue to enjoy these tender, tangy, spicy, and sweet morsels of yummy-ness.

Introducing weekly specials

As some of you may have noticed, we keep a tight menu of classic Korean dishes at Kimchi Kitchen (12 items currently) so that we can focus on bringing you the best quality and price. But we still want to share the rest of the crazy delicious world of Korean food with you - how to reconcile? Our answer is weekly specials - each week, we'll add 1-2 items to the regular menu that showcase a dish we love. The specials will run from Wednesday to Monday. Some of it will be seasonal (think naengmyun in the summer, budae-jigae in the winter), others only delicious.

Our first weekly special is 'Korean chicken popcorn' or 닭강정 in Korean. Pieces of chicken breasts are fried and coated in a tangy sweet sauce. A perfect weekend treat.

The secret to our broth

Customers tell us they love our jigaes - the hearty Korean stews that are the soul of Korean food. Many have especially raved about the broth - the perfect balance of umami, salty, sweet and sour. For those who have eaten in Korea, many say that it's just like the jigaes they've tasted in Seoul.

Our secret is a big pot of base broth simmering in our kitchen all day, every day. It contains the three ingredients that have formed the basis of many traditional Korean soups, stews and sauces since time immemorial in Korea - sea kelp, daikon radish, and dried anchovies. A marriage of land and sea, these three ingredients combine the sea saltiness and umami from the kelp and anchovies with the refreshing sweetness of the radish.

Kimchi Kimchi

We ran through most of the kimchi we made for the soft open, so time to make another batch! We make all our kimchi from scratch at Kimchi Kitchen, using the recipes from my grandmother. Her kimchi is a bit mellower than most kimchi served at Korean restaurants, which we feel allows people to enjoy the full range of flavors more. Kimchi goes through a natural fermentation process, which means that kimchi that is 1 day old tastes very different vs a kimchi 3-5 days old vs a kimchi that is 4 weeks old! In Korean cooking, there are different uses for kimchi at each stage. One day old kimchi is often eaten with bossam (a pork shoulder boiled with various spices... we hope to have it as a special soon), while more 'ripe' kimchi that is 3-4 weeks old is perfect for kimchi fried rice or stews. We make kimchi at least once a week to make sure we have enough kimchi that is at the right stage of fermentation for each of our dishes (as well as to ensure we have enough to serve as a side dish!)