TO LIVE & DIE IN LA: KOREAN, HEALTHY FOOD FOR ECSTATIC BODY & SOUL
Of all the many excellent ethnic dining options in Los Angeles, the one for which I have developed the biggest craving is Korean food. I am very far from an expert and, one or two experiences in London excluded, I had never really got to grips with the cuisine before I began to come to the West Coast regularly.
In L.A. however Sybil and her friends have taken every opportunities to introduce me to Korean cuisine in all its bewildering variety. Crab stews at On Dal, where they finish the dish with rice fried in the remaining juices of the stew. Korean BBQ at Chosun Galbi,with sizzliling strips of beef seared at the table and this week three very different experiences, which began with a first birthday party for the daughter of one of Sybil’s friends.
I did not realise that such things were a big matter but, was told that in Korean society, they are treated with the same significance as a Jewish Bar-Mitzvah and that the ceremonies have their roots in a time when high level of infant mortality meant that reaching a first anniversary was something to celebrate.
As ever, as I am beginning to realise, no Korean event passes without people being fed to within an inch of their lives and even though the star of the show could not appreciate the spread her parents provided for the party, the rest of us returned more than was probably seemly to the laden buffet table.
A good start to a Korean themed week, which got better when we accepted an invitation to join my friend and top food writer, Susan Ji-Young Park at her home as she whipped up a “simple” meal. In Korean, simple obviously means, “I am going to feed you until you are in a kimchi induced coma”. We had barely walked through the door and before she started laying out plate after plate of Banchan, the small plates of snacks to be shared, while she prepared the main course of Bulgogi and Galbi stir-fried with enoki mushrooms.
Finally, to round off the week, a visit to Sybil’s favourite fast food joint, KyoChon, an outpost of a chain which boasts over 100 branches in South Korea. I can only hope that they soon open one in London, so you can try it. Although Sybil had told me that the fried chicken here was good, it did not prepare me for just how good the twice-fried chicken wings and drumsticks in their glistening garlic sauce coating would be.
The drumsticks in particular appealed to me and I tore into them like Henry VIII at a divorce party, biting through the crisp skin to the moist meat underneath. Sybil insisted we split the last one of the five strong portion equally, but at she at least allowed me the honour of reducing the remaining bones to sawdust before we requested our final paltry (or should that be poultry?) bill, which came with a complimentary scoop of decent chocolate ice cream.
Next up, I am told is a Korean tofu restaurant. If anyone can make tofu worth eating, I suspect it is the Koreans.