JeJu

Korean Handmade Noodling

In restaurant on 03/22/2009 at 9:50 am

When I think of Korean food, I see seas of seafood pancake and little bowls of kimchi surrounding a charcoal grill in the middle of the table. That’s pretty much what you get when you go to Koreatown, huge dining rooms, two floors of indoor BBQ, or tiny dark places selling tofu and bibimbap, and all the while, blinding reflections off the stainless steel bowls and flatware. What’s up with that stainless steel?

My favorite place is Gahm Mi Oak, for its sawn tree-trunk tables and offal cold dishes.  Yesterday we were futon shopping, and while scanning the upper floors for a dealer, saw a huge Korean homemade noodles sign. The other half would not hear of eating at our usual cow-knee salad spot.

Arirang  is on the 3rd floor. While walking up the uneven and dirtily red-carpeted stairs, some cute murals of Korean peasant kids at play pointed the way to our destination. We sat in the front room by the window peering onto 31st Street, bookended by two more murals, one of a bunch of kids playing “ram your balls against a telephone pole”, and the other of kids jumping on a seesaw.

The menu was small and the waitstaff, very attentive. The choices were long noodles, dough flakes, or both in four soup bases: chicken, anchovy, seafood or veggie which could all have kimchi added. The other half picked anchovy and long noodles, while I chose seafood kimchi with a combo of both carb types. Dough flakes turned out to be bits of flat, silver dollar coin-shaped dough pieces, which stood up to the soup better than the long, fettucine-shaped noodles. It was served in these huge (even by my standards) stainless steel bowls of soup. In about 5 minutes, the noodles got really soggy and mushy, so we hurriedly extracted them from the broth into our smaller bowls.

The flavor of the anchovy soup was unique, a little sweet, not too fishy, and mild. The other half enjoyed it. Mine was spicy, but not overpoweringly so. The seafood part consisted of two large head-on shrimp, a clam of some sort, and then bits and pieces of detritus from those $3 bags of cast-off crusteaceans you can buy at Asian food marts. I tried eating the shrimp, shell-on. Nice crunch. Something I’d never encountered before were long slices of potato which I mistook initially as daikon. They were very al dente, almost crunchy. If only the portions were a bit smaller, and the prices a couple dollars less, I’d say this place would be worth it. And I would serve the noodles on the side, to keep them from thickening the soup too much, and losing their nice, fresh, QQ chew.

The only other guests in the establishment were middle-aged to elderly Koreans, who seemed to know each other and the owner, an older woman with garish make-up but a cute green apron that buttoned in the back. In the front pocket was emblazoned ‘Life is Dreaming.’ She kept coming over to chat with the ladies. They ordered the vegetable broth, of which they were given huge plates of whole stemmed and uncut greens. When we saw they asked for doggie bags for their soup, we combined our soups and asked for a container as well. The other half used the soup to boil some poached eggs for our brunch this morning. If we return to Arirang, I want to try the ginseng chicken soup. I’m still fantasizing over the miraculous stuff my Korean friend introduced me to in a dingy tatami-clad dive we went to when I was in Seoul.

After some forum skulking, it seems there are several reasons why Koreans use stainless steel or silver tableware:
1. After WWII, there was not much wood laying around, just a bunch of scrap metal
2. They last a long time, don’t break, and are easy to clean
3. They could double as deadly weapons to spear any ninjas that bust in on your meal
4. Silver was once used by Korean aristocrats to detect poison in their food by turning color from contact

awaiting assassination

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