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Woochon Clan Ain’t Nothing to Mess With

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Fire.  It can both cleanse or soil, sustain or end life, or perfectly cook or singe delicious, mouth watering meat.  Chicago has always been known for their meat products.  At one point, we were known as the “Hog-butcher to the world” compliments of one Carl Sandburg due to the presence of the now defunct Union Stockyards that were an engine of industry and the employer of the immigrant masses that called Chicago their new home.  Although these legions of cattle and pigs no longer stream into the city by the millions, the ethnic communities have remained a very integral part of Chicago.  They are constantly in flux depending on the decade and world politics.  On the northside of Chicago, there has long been a large and tightly knit Korean community.  Going down Lawrence Avenue, you can still see some of the remnants of the once thriving Koreatown that my girlfriend tells me about when she was younger.  Thanks to the Immigration Act of 1965, it allowed these Korean immigrants to finally come in families and establish business that brought the pleasures of the home country to the US of A.  However, due to changing demographics and the rise of the Latino population in America, Koreatown now has more of a Latin American and Middle Eastern flavor due to the original Korean families moving to surrounding northern suburbs.  However, that doesn’t mean that the food has gone anywhere!  Even though I have lived in South Korea and have eaten my fair share of different Korean foods, I’m always down for a quick pop over to a new restaurant that my girlfriend swears by.  She hasn’t steered me wrong yet!  In this case, we went to Woo Chon Korean BBQ .

It is a very tiny restaurant that is wedged between a Korean store that is both grocer and video store next door that has all of your K-drama needs.  However, if you want to get some of the best barbecue in the city, this is your place.  IMG_6023The waitstaff is also probably some of the nicest you can find in a Korean restaurant since they aren’t known for having the same rules as found in American restaurants.  They might be a bit gruffer or forward compared to your typical server in a T.G.I.Fridays, but they know how to make some delicious food.  We were quickly seated at one of their simple tables which are a bit cramped if you are six feet or taller like yours truly.  We decided to start with kimchi pajeon or a type of savory Korean pancake.  It is derived from a Chinese green onion pancake (cōngyóubǐng) yet different because it is made from an egg based mix.  The name “pajeon” literally means “green onion (pa) + pancake (jeon)”.  While the ingredients seem quite obvious, there are many varieties of jeon that can be filled with different meats, seafood, or in this case, the signature fermented Korean lifeforce known as kimchi. IMG_6013 Typically, Janice’s family gets the haemul jeong or fish, shellfish, and octopus pancake, but I can’t get enough of kimchi in any form.  It was a ton of food to start off the meal for a reasonable price. IMG_6014 It is kind of bready yet filled with crunchy green onions and spicy, crisp pieces of hot and spicy fermented cabbage. IMG_6015 As we moved our way through this perfect pancake,  they quickly began putting out the banchan or little plates of random Korean snacks like pickled cucumbers, cellophane noodles, pickled radish, and even the mysterious acorn jelly that looks like cut up, corrugated pieces of rubber.  It’s not at terrible as it sounds but not my cup of tea.  As well as bringing out the small plates, the server also provided us with a blazing hot bowl of coals for cooking our orders of kalbi or beef short ribs.IMG_6016  Korean bbq has been a bit of a recent phenomenon in American cuisine, but it is a form of dining as old as time.  In Korea, eating beef was a great privilege since the cattle were beasts of burden, and the Koryo Buddhist dynasty of rulers forbade the consumption of meat.  However, in the 13th Century, those crazy Mongols invaded and removed the ban.  They were pragmatic nomads, but they knew good food too.  However, beef didn’t become prevalent on Korean tables until the latter half of the 20th Century as South Korea quickly became the advanced nation we now know.  History lesson over, we threw the raw pieces of meat on the grill with a satisfying sizzle and pop. IMG_6019 Once Janice grilled them to perfection, we mixed them with rice, doenjang (soybean paste), and banchan in leaves of lettuce to create ssam bap or what could be described as lettuce wraps with plenty of savory flavors to enjoy.  IMG_6021We also got a side of pre-prepared dwegi bulgogi or sliced pork loin that is sauteed in a soy based sauce infused with ginger, gochujang (chili sauce), garlic, sugar, and rice wine.  IMG_6018It wasn’t on the menu but highly recommend this Korean classic.  It also has a bit of a spicy kick to it if you’re not feeling the more mild grilled meats.  I loved mixing the pork’s zing with the green onions that came with the kalbi. IMG_6017 It provided a definite earthiness that mellowed out the grease of the meat. We also got an order of moo guk or literally “radish soup”.  IMG_6022If there’s one thing Korean soups and stews are known for, or at least what I’ve noticed, is being absolutely as hot as the surface of the sun, temperature-wise.  While it takes a bit of time to cool off, the taste alone is worth it.  Plus, if you’re looking for a bowl of comfort food during these cold Chicago months, step aside mac ‘n’ cheese, get a warm and filling bowl of soup.   By the end of the meal, we were stuffed to the gills with great food, and we were ready to take on the cold climes outside.

So if you’re looking for a more low-key Korean bbq place that isn’t packed with everyone who wants to experience the novelty of grilling meat at their table, I’d recommend Woo Chon Korean BBQ.  Oh yeah, and the food is mouth-watering to say the least and easy on the old wallet.
Woo Chon Korean BBQ Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Meat and Greet

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Hello everyone once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a few different types of food that I tried over the weekend.  The first was samgyeopsal which is part of the litany of things that Koreans love to barbecue.  They’re basically large strips of bacon minus the seasonings, but they taste so delicious no matter what.  While the bacon was sizzling on the grill, we had plenty of different types of banchan or side dishes to try.  I passed on the macaroni salad, but  I did enjoy the fresh tofu jjigae or tofu soup.  We also threw a couple cloves of garlic on the grill to give the bacon a bit more of a savory flavor.  After about ten minutes, we had our pieces of bacon cut up with the scissors they give you when you sit down.  You can take each piece and put some of the onion vinegar sauce on it or perhaps some of the red chili sauce depending on if you want it spicy or not.  Then you put it in a pepper leaf or a lettuce leaf and enjoy your delicious wrap.  They also gave us pieces of what we assumed were mushrooms to also grill since they had an almost meaty aftertaste mixed with earthy overtones when consumed.IMG_1290

Going from one type of meat to another, the following night I met up with friends in Gangnam to try Chinese lamb skewers at Gayang located at 강남구 역삼 1동 817-21 .IMG_1294  It was a very anonymous place that really didn’t have a line out the door like some of the other bbq places, but this grilling dinner was a bit different.  Instead of just doing the usual Fred Flintstone method of grilling with slapping big pieces of meat on  hot metal, we were doing more of a marshmallow method of grilling.  We got four total portions of skewers since we were quite hungry, but it’s not the cheapest meal out there at 10,000 won per serving.  However, you get roughly ten skewers, and the experience was worth it.  The lamb grilled up nicely with very little fat, and it came with a dry chili based rub that had clear cumin elements with a little garlic. The banchan was pretty typical, but I did enjoy the boiled peanuts and the sweet onions.  If you’re looking for something a bit different from Korean bbq, check out the Chinese lamb place in Gangnam.

The final part of this food trilogy entry deals with a spur of the moment food encounter.  After going to a couple bars in Gangnam, my friend Steph and I decided to try some street food at one of the stalls in the alley.  They were doing good business, so we just picked a mix of different fried foods.IMG_1304 (800x600)  We ended up having deep fried kimbap (rice rolls), deep fried plantains, and fried meat dumplings.  The kimbap were ok with small glass noodles, but the meat dumplings were decent since the meat had a great seasoning blend that made it taste like shepherd’s pie a little bit.  However, the flat pancake plantains were the best since they tasted like sweet potatoes but were almost too sweet.  We still aren’t sure what they were, but we were happy to experience an authentic part of Korean culture.

Get Your Roll On

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Hello to everyone out there in cyberspace.  Still on the other side of the world and slowly but surely making my way through Korean cuisine.  Today I finally tried the Korean version of sushi but without fish:  Kimbap.IMG_1148

Originally, I thought that Japanese had the whole “stuff rice and a whole bunch of other ingredients into seaweed” market cornered, but as always, the Koreans manage to provide their own twist on a Chinese or Japanese staple food.  We had just received our rolls of kimbap right after our physical for immigration, so it might have been the hunger talking, but I greatly enjoyed these delightful little rolls.  The rice was sticky, and the seaweed wasn’t too tough.  On the inside, there was a bit of radish, cucumbers, spinach, and some sort of ham (possibly Spam), but they all combined to form a burst of savory flavor.  Surprisingly the meat didn’t overpower the vegetables, but in Korea, everything is seasoned or prepared to bring out the maximum amount of flavor.  So overall, it was a good experience, and it is a good preview to my more adventurous culinary outings during my time here like eating live octopus and dog soup (yeah, they serve both of those things here).  Stay tuned!

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