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Korean Tofu with Spam in Ithaca, NY

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Korean Tofu with Spam in Ithaca, NY

Alan Divack | Aug 6, 2003 05:25 PM

I had what for me has long been a much sought after holy grail – a dish of Spam with tofu and kimchi. It was at Asia Cuisine in Ithaca, NY, and it was wonderful.. Let me explain.

A number of years ago, I ate at Cho Dang Gol on 35th St in Manhattan, a Korean restaurant noted for its tofu. There was a dish of tofu, kimchi, and Spam on the menu, and the time wasn’t right, so I didn’t order it. I have regretted it every since. I have been back to Cho Dang Gol a few times, but I no longer saw Spam on the menu. The important place of Spam in the Korean diet, and psyche, has been written about many times on these boards, and I have regretted not ordering it, and I have looked for it at other restaurants, but to no avail.

I am spending the week in Ithaca, NY and I went for dinner last night to Asia Cuisine, a local Korean restaurant, with a friend who has spent time in Korea. Amongst other dishes, we ordered a spicy stew with “tofu, hot dogs, kimchi, and clams,” which in and of itself, sounded like an odd combination. What came instead was a stew with tofu, hot dogs, kimchi and Spam. Imagine my delight. The Spam was revolting (it might be genetic—I could imagine generations of ancestors strict about Kasruth shuddering when I ate it) but the stew itself was delectable. Caramelized hot dog slices, spicy cabbage a bit milder for having been cooked, firm noodle, tofu cubes and Spam in a rich and spicy broth. We ladled in rice (some of the best I have ever had, chewy, almost glassy in appearance) and it absorbed the flavors well. The sum was far greater than the parts. The effect was almost Hungarian. Sort of like an Asian take on Szekely Gulyas or some layered cabbage dish. I guess that “clam” was a typo, or perhaps they thought no one would order tofu with Spam. I felt fulfilled, and particularly happy that I could eat this combo only 3 blocks from the Moosewood restaurant.

We also had an OK bi bim bap, and an excellent rice omelet. (There was a scene with this in the movie Tampopo.) It was a mound of fried rice made with the same excellent rice and lots of meat, completely covered with a thin tender and crisp egg pancake, which in turn was topped with lots of ketchup. I imagined myself in Korean comfort food heaven.

Asia Cuisine is on Tioga near the Commons in Ithaca, and is well worth checking out for the homier range of Korean dishes. They have an extensive Korean Chinese menu as well. The banchan were limited but passable, but I can have that in Manhattan next week.

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