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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Young Kyung: Old School Korean Chinese Classics like Jjajangmyun and Tangsuyook

I think watching one too many Korean soaps had given me a hankering for jjajangmyun, the classic Korean Chinese dish of slippery noodles in a greasy and delicious black bean sauce. That's because of all the many eating scenes on Korean TV, there's always a requisite scene of a delivery man bringing a bunch of glistening noodles that people subsequently wolf down in exactly two minutes. So I went to Young Kyung (also spelled Young King, although in Korean, it's 연경 and therefore should be romanized as Yeon Kyung. Whatever.) in Koreatown, probably one of the most old-school establishments serving the dish.
It's not the most photogenic dish. It doesn't score any points for food porn. Once you mix the noodles up with the black bean sauce, forget about it. It's even less appealing to the eye. But take a bite and you won't be able to stop. The pork and onion pieces in the sauce coat the noodles evenly. Key is to mix it up before the noodles get too dry and start sticking to each other. The noodles were not too soft although they could have been a bit less cooked and the sauce was not too sweet and just salty enough. Some places put too much caramel or corn syrup and ruin the sauce by making it taste like candy.

While the dish is good by itself, it wouldn't be hitting the spot completely without the accompaniment of 1) tangsuyook, sweet and sour pork/beef and 2) Korean Chinese kimchi made with green cabbage instead of the traditional napa. I liked the way Young Kyung served it -- the deep fried morsels of beef separate from the delightfully gooey, sweet and sour sauce dotted with slices of carrots, cucumber, mushrooms and green onions. This way, you only need to add sauce to parts of the beef pieces so the rest stays crunchy sans sauce. And crunchy they were. That's another aspect of the tangsuyook I liked -- the beef pieces were extremely crispy, likely coated in sticky rice flour that make them extra crispy.
Then the kimchi was not bad, although it wasn't great. It was a bit watered down but maybe they didn't want the spiciness to overtake the flavor of the noodles. Gotta love a place that takes their food so seriously that when asked to box the leftover tangsuyook, the server brings two separate boxes, one for the meat and another for the sauce. When I commented on it, she emphatically said, "of course they should be separate!" The quality of the meat wasn't all that great but I was impressed with the care they put into making it crispy and the sauce wasn't too gooey-thick or overly sweet like many other places.

It also serves raw sliced onions with concentrated black bean sauce as a dip and that's only for the brave who don't have to worry about having onion breath afterwards. Pour some vinegar over the onions to reduce the spiciness if you're diving into them. Pickled radishes are usually offered in Korean Chinese restaurants but for some reason, not this one.

For a bit of history, Korean Chinese dishes like jjajangmyun were brought into Korea by Chinese immigrants in late 19th century and is said to have originated from Shandong province in China. The modern-day version is a modified version of the original, which didn't have meat or vegetables and was lighter in color. Many ethnic Chinese in Korea used to run restaurants serving this dish although that has changed in Korea.

At Young Kyung, however, the servers spoke to the Korean customers in Korean and to each other in Mandarin, indicating their ethnic Chinese heritage.

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