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A Primer on the Joys of Chinese-Influenced Korean Food

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A Primer on the Joys of Chinese-Influenced Korean Food

Michael Yu | Oct 7, 1999 06:56 AM

Lesson 3: Chinese food. Wait that's not accurate. What Wonki in his infinite gastronomical wisdom said is right. This stuff that we are about to talk about is not Chinese food. It is Chinese influenced Korean food. You can't find this in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong or Taipei. Only in all of Korea and a few places in LA and New York and a handful of other Korean-populated cities around the world (e.g. Sao Paolo!).

The departing point from real Chinese food is that this sort of food is banquet food. You have to have a minimum of four people trying this (me and Wonki with our humongous appetites count sufficiently as four people). The reason is that the joy of this food lies in the "yori" or main dishes that you order and share. These are meat, seafood, veggie dishes.

So to begin, you order a number of main dishes approximately half the number of guests. Add one dish extra for good measure. Again, you see there is a lack of starters when you eat Korean style, although sometimes a porridge or soup can begin the meal. These soups should look familiar: sharks fin, corn and chicken soup, seafood and egg whites, etc. One exception here is naengchae, which I think literally means cold dish. This is the closest thing Chinese food comes to an appetizer sampler. This is an ideal first round. A good dish will contain: peeled sliced medium shrimp, boiled and sliced duck eggs, sliced jellyfish mixed in garlic and sliced cumcumber, sliced cold spiced beef in soy sauce (I think they use a thick grained pot-roast type of meat for this) and some other pickable cold food. The jellyfish should be marinaded in a very piquant mustard dressing along with the cucumber. Each of these elements should be arranged around a huge platter and the serving person should include each type into little serving dishes. Do not mix everything up. This dish can be expensive, and do know you can go omit this.

Main dishes run the gamut. The all-time favorites in Korea are: tangsuyook, kkanpungki (no relation to Wonki) and nanjawansu. Kkanpungki is an approximate cousin of kung pao gao (chicken) (notice the phonetic relation?). But there are differences. First of all, the chicken is deep fried first and then stir fried in garlic, chili, and more garlic. There are no peanuts, and usually its hard to find a boneless version of this dish. Now, double frying like that is probably not the healthiest thing in the world, but hey, live it up. Ttangsuyook is really a cliche order at a Korean chinese restaurant. It is sweet and sour pork. And this dish is susceptible to as much abuse as the American-Chinese version too. A good dish should have a clear to slightly yellow color (not too sweet) as opposed to a red/orange/pink color. If the dish reminds you of a Shirley Temple, let it go Luke! It also comes in a beef version. Nanjawansu is a personal childhood favorite. It is 3" diameter patties of pork deep fried then served with shittake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and other veggies in that characteristic Chinese cornstarch laden sauce. Sounds too ungourmet, but that's why I like it. There is a Shanghainese dish called Lion's Head which approximates this in some ways.

Now apart from the typical dishes there are endless varieties of more main dishes. If you like seafood haemul japtang is a typical dish. Its a stir fry of seafood (squid, mussels, shrimp, usually nonvertebrates) again in a cornstarchy sauce. Are you beginning to see why you wouldn't order too many of these dishes? This only half the meal and your stomach is already filling up on the cornstarch. Another dish is haesam juksoon, sea cucumber with bamboo shoots. Sea cucumber is a much ignored pleasure of chinese food. There is an alternate dish of haesam with steamed samgyupsal (the cut of pork used for bacon), but that is almost too authentically Cantonese to be called Korean Chinese food. I gotta think up of more dishes. Part 2 consists of again starch to take up remaining room in your stomach. Unfortunately, I have to run off for dinner.

Wonki, wanna take over? Anyone else?

Enjoy!

Michael Yu

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