HAM JI PARK: STICKING MY NECK OUT FOR PORK STEW IN K TOWN
I had eaten more pork ribs than any right thinking man should ever probably consider during Road Trip USA 2010. Eating more on my return was certainly the furthest thing from my mind.
However, when Sybil suggested that I join her and some friends for supper of pork neck stew and ribs in Korea Town the day after I got back to Los Angeles, I just found myself simply unable to resist. I am a gorgeous man, but I am not a strong willed man.
Those of you who read the blog on a regular basis will know that I am developing quite a passion for Korean food, based on my experiences here on the West Coast. It may be founded on enthusiasm rather than any great knowledge at this point, but it is strong enough that our next great travel adventure will be to Seoul and Busan in November. I am so excited I already have a countdown clock ticking away on my computer.
Until the happy day when we set off, the abundant selection of Korean food in LA is managing to suffice quite nicely thank you very much. With the help of Sybil and her pals, I am managing to experience a wide of cooking styles from this varied cuisine and am slowly beginning to realise that it is not all about Korean BBQ.
As if to prove the point, our supper that night was at Ham Ji Park. It is actually well known for its BBQ and had recently been awarded second prize for its skills in that direction at the 2nd Annual L.A. Korean BBQ Cook Off. However, we were not there for the ‘Q, I was instructed. We were their for their equally famous Gamjatang, a stew made with pork neck and potatoes. The name, I am told means “Potato Soup” and the broth was originally flavoured with spine bones, but now uses the more available neck bones.
Sybil and I met two of her friends at a nearby Korean bar for a happy hour drink, which were accompanied by a large plate of fried chicken gizzards with deep fried garlic. Then we walked a couple of blocks up 6th Street to where Ham Ji Park was already beginning to fill up and our friends were waiting.
So often, when I go out to dinner with people, I am handed the menu with the words “you are a food expert, why don’t you order?” and, quite frankly, usually I am more than happy to do so as it means I can be sure that all the dishes I want to try hit the table. When it comes to Korean food in L.A, however, I bow before Sybil’s friend, Amanda. So, I just sat back and sipped on my drink while she babbled to our server and everyone else shouted at her to make sure she didn’t forget any food substance vital to our night’s enjoyment.
She didn’t, and it was only a matter of a few minutes before the small plates of banchan began to be placed at strategic points along the table. Following soon after these were two big bowls of, Bo Kum Bop, Kimchi fried rice, topped with chopped Spring onions and a raw egg. Amanda began to mix the contents expertly until the rice had turned from white to rusty red.
Next up, the Dae Ji Galbi, Korean spicy pork ribs, which had been marinated and then grilled. They could not have been more different from the ribs I had tried on the road trip, like those rib tips at Roper’s in Saint Louis, the wet ribs at Payne’s in Memphis or the dry rubbed ribs at Rendezvous in the same city. However, I couldn’t help but think that the proprietors of those noble restaurants would approve of what this new wave of immigrants to the US were doing with Brer Pig.
Finally, came the much lauded pork neck stew, simmering away in its metal serving bowl. The pork neck bones were flecked with chilli and glistened in a deep red broth alongside chunks of softening potato. The meat was tender but still required a bite and the long, slow cooking had released all the flavour from the bones, which added to the depth of the chilli broth. Despite the fact I had topped up my already high meat table pretty rapidly, I kept spooning the delicious juices from the serving bowl to my mouth until I gave out a loud spicy burp and stopped for fear I would start sweating red broth during my sleep.
We called for the bill, a paltry $22 each including tip and the ladies wrapped what little remains there were in take out boxes to be enjoyed for lunch the next day. However much I love the pig, I could not even begin to imagine looking at ribs, necks or any other swiney part for a while and handed mine over to Sybil for safe keeping.
I am now on a more sensible diet for a while. I am on the wagon and really enjoying the abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables to be found in California until I lose some weight and my bodily functions return to somewhere near normal. However, with more winning Korean dishes like this on offer, I can’t wait for the next trip.
Eighty days and counting. TICK. TOCK.