Wednesday, January 13, 2010
So You Think You Know Bulgoki?
Just returned from a great eating tour of Korea. My first stop undoubtedly had to be Kwangyang Bulgoki Marohwajeok in Samseongdong. It's important that this place not be confused with Kwangyang Bulgoki down the street, only a few restaurants away. It's deceptively close, with the same name but it's not related and not nearly as good as the one that has Marohwajeok as part of its title.
One wouldn't think of bulgoki as something a person living in LA may crave when going to Korea, but I definitely could not get this out here. The meat is hanwoo, meaning Korean beef, and it has a distinctively fresh taste I've only detected in the best grass-fed beef in the best steak houses here.
But the clincher is the marinade, both for its amazingly balanced flavor and curiously invisible nature to the naked eye.
What I mean is that when the beautiful raw meat arrives, there's no juice dripping, no chopped green onions or sesame seeds on the meat. The meat looks plain and totally unseasoned. But the minute it hits the grill that looks made out of twisted copper wires, it imparts a perfectly well-seasoned flavor. The wait staff insisted they used soy sauce to marinate their meat, but there was no trace of it that I could witness with my eyes. My palate, however, did taste it. I was in heaven. I couldn't get enough.
What makes this bulgoki better are the accompaniments, of course, such as the kimchi, greens to wrap the meat in and other side dishes sprawled across the table.
I particularly liked the kookmul kimchi, the non-spicy, ice-cold, radish kimchi usually served in the winter that is so refreshing to have with the heavier-tasting meat.
I also liked the greens that were lightly dressed in some rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Koreans call these greens chicory but they must have been from a different family from the chicory we're familiar here. My favorite combo was taking a piece of bulgoki with some of these greens and wrapping them in a perilla leaf. So delicious and perfectly balanced!
The other side dishes were average, if not curious (e.g., a weird smoked salmon, lettuce and peanut butter concoction I used to have at local robatayakis way back when that strangely works when drinking beer or sake but frankly doesn't go with bulgoki).
It's fairly expensive but well-worth it. The only risk is that you may seriously overeat once you taste this mysteriously well-marinated meat that --if you'll excuse the cliche --melts in your mouth. I'm not sure what some people mean when they say that Korean food and barbecue is better in LA than in Korea. What are they smoking? Get thee to Marohwajeok!
Kwangyang Bulgoki Marohwajeok (광양불고기 마로화적)
Kangnamku Samseongdong 120-3