Perceptions of Korean Food: Hawaii

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Written by Daniel Gray Picture from various sources. Click on the pictures to find the source

Korean Food in Hawaii
With all this talk about "globalizing Korean cuisine" I think that we need to give props to those that are already doing it their own way. These Korean chefs are striking out on their own and localizing the food or promoting dishes that the locals already find appealing.


One of my guests called me the "Taste Whisperer" because before I start the tour I ask food related questions and try to find the taste that people are searching for. I do that or I try and pick dishes that are exciting and delicious for them. Now each guest is different and it is a kind of a game for me to try and pick dishes that will excite them.
The last few months have been fun because we have been getting a number of Hawaiian visitors on our tours (I don't know who has been recommending us, but thank you!). These guests had tried Korean food- or they thought. They even knew what the names of the dishes are such as jeon, sundubu, kalbi, and chiggae (I was really surprised they knew how to pronounce chiggae). Sure the food looked the same but they said it tasted much differently. They said that in Korea the food was spicier, sharper, and crunchier- overall, they said it tasted better here.


During the course of the conversations, I ask guests what kind of Korean food and restaurants they have in Hawaii and I learned that there are quite a number of different restaurants. It seems to be a hot cuisine, but the presentation of Korean food is quite different.
Yuchun Black Noodles


One restaurant that a guest mentioned had "Black Naengmyeon." They said they have very dark noodles that were quite soft like soba and not as chewy as Korean naengmyeon. They then poured a cup of broth with ice over the noodles. The said the broth in Korea was a bit saltier and tastier than in Hawaii.

Meat Jun
A few of my Hawaiian guests have asked about Kalbi Jeon or "Meat Jun", which I have never heard of. They said that it is marinated beef that is egg battered and pan-fried. This sounded quite intriguing and I wondered why they didn't do this here. 


Guests have been very surprised with the variety of side dishes and they particularly liked the kimchi which they said tasted sharper with more crunch. One guest was particularly in love with the turnip kimchi because they liked the cubes of turnip in a spicy sauce.


Another concept they have all over the islands that are very popular are the Korean takeout joints. They said that these are small places that you go in and order 3 different vegetable side dishes from the "Veggie Bar," then they pick a meat (bulgogi, spicy pork, fish, etc), and a type of rice. They box them all up and people take them home. This concept is seems to be a more customizable "dosirak" concept like Hansot.
Best Drive-in
Restaurants that several of my guests have recommended are "Best Drive in" which is a very popular drive in place that is famous for their breakfast. For $3.75, you can get rice, eggs your way, meat and coffee. They are also famous for their soy sauce, braised potatoes, and sundubu (I'm learning that sundubu is a popular dish in many cultures). 
Ah-Lang


The most intriguing place I heard of is Ah-Lang which is a one-woman show run by a very angry Korean woman. The restaurant only has 8 tables and there is always a queue of people waiting to get in. There is a system to ordering and you have to write your order on a piece of paper indicating the level of spice (1-10) and hand it to her. It is against the rule to ask her for suggestions or to loiter in line. One of my guests said that the people in line are nervous as their turn to come up to enter the restaurant (if you talk loudly, the Angry chef will yell at you and ask you to leave). She'll lash out at anyone that she feels is not following the rules in loud Korean (which few people understand). Even with the "Soup Nazi" atmosphere the food is apparently amazing and she gets rave reviews all the time. 


I think I am going to have to take a trip to Hawaii soon. The Korean food there sounds great.

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