Kicking It Up a Notch in 2011 with Spicy Banchan
Happy New Year, foodies! I can’t believe 2011 is already upon us. But I guess when much of your time is spent happily feasting in pure bliss, you don’t realize just how quickly time flies, right?
The new year is an opportunity to start fresh, with new resolutions and a clean palate. If you recall, in last week’s column I mentioned taking this new year as an opportunity to submerge yourselves into a new world of culinary delight — sampling unique and different foods you’ve never before tasted. So without further ado, enter into the world of banchan — small dishes of authentic and con-temporary Korean cuisine served with steaming hot rice. There’s a wide variety of banchan to sample, from the ever-popular kim chee, kim chee cucumber and namul to the acquired raw crab and spicy peppers. The great thing is that banchan is served in small portions, perfect for sharing and sampling a bite or two. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect Korean side dish for you, whatever it may be.
Foodies, now’s the time to take this challenge. Join me in exploring culinary delights beyond your comfort zone at some of the best “Ono, You Know” Korean
“hot spots” our Island has to offer.
Orine Sarang Chae
Escape to Seoul, Korea, on any given day at Orine Sarang Chae. Located on Keeamoku Street (much closer to home than Seoul), diners can feast on a bubbling pot of kim chee soup, or my personal favorite spicy kalbi soup ($8.25) and kim chee Korean pancake ($2.50).
Open daily from 10 a.m. till 2 a.m., Orine Sarang Chae’s comfortable outdoor seating provides adequate shade with its many colorful umbrella tables and trees with twinkling lights. It’s this relaxing atmosphere, similar to a peaceful garden setting, that really adds to the whole dining experience.
Owner Irene Woo has been in the restaurant business for the past 35 years, previously having opened a restaurant in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until 2009 that Woo decided to open this Yakiniku-style eatery right here at home.
Lunch specials run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and offer affordable plate lunches such as Kalbi, barbecue chicken, barbecue beef, spicy pork, fried mondoo and more. Prices range from $5.99 to $12.95. Noodle dishes like the Mandoo soup ($6.95) and the Seafood Kalguksu ($8.95) also are popular options.
For dinner you can cook up enough meat to feed an army — OK, maybe four people — yakiniku-style for around $40. But really, expect to be served a lot of food and, for the price, you really can’t go wrong.
But then again, it’s the banchan that takes your meal to a whole new level. Woo says five side dishes accompany any lunch option, while seven to eight banchan complement dinner.
“Korean food is healthy,” she adds. “From long ago, Koreans have eaten many side dishes, main dishes and soup. It’s part of our culture.
“In Korea, breakfast is usually the biggest meal of the day, while dinner is smaller. You don’t want to have a big meal before bed time.”
Well then, if the dinners at Orine Sarang Chae are considered “small,” I’m anxious to see the size of a typical breakfast in the Woo household. It must truly be the definition of a feast!
The banchan side dishes include your usual kim chee, bean sprouts, kim chee cucumber, soy bean sprouts and daikon, to name a few. And Woo works hard to prepare each and every side dish herself and makes them fresh every day.
“Everyone loves the white kim chee, especially since it’s not spicy. Cucumber kim chee is also popular,” Woo states, adding that her personal favorite is spicy daikon.
Whatever your favorite may be, let the banchan spice up your palate for the hearty meal to come! Trust me, Orine Sarang Chae knows just what you need to feed your mind, body and soul!
905 Keeaumoku Street
Upon opening the doors to Million Restaurant, a million if not more delicious and exotic aromas quickly intrigued my senses. With friendly staffers cooking up piping-hot meat on the grill, it wasn’t long before the intensified craving for authentic Korean food socked me right in the stomach.
Owners Chang Hyun Park and Angela Park started this family business in 1989, and since then have been serving patrons a taste of Korea straight from the restaurant’s Sheridan Street location. Kalbi is one of the specialties here, along with the boiling hot stews that will definitely work up a sweat. Whether you prefer the chefs cooking up a kalbi order in the kitchen or cooking it yourself on the yakiniku grill, the choice is yours. And no matter what your preference is, the choice still equates to one mouth-watering meal.
Since Korean favorites such as the popular bul go gi beef and chicken as well as the fish juhn plates are more than enough to appease any appetite, no high-quality Korean meal is at all convincing without the many side dishes.
“We have a round onion salad served with daikon wraps, potato salad, our homemade kim chee, steamed egg, daikon kim chee, bean sprouts with sesame seed oil, steamed green beans, raw crab, Korean style shredded pork and Taegu,” says Angela Park.
With a diversity of banchan to choose from, any foodie will soon find a favorite.
“Potato salad, steamed egg and taegu are recommended for first-timers who haven’t tried many Korean side dishes before,” she adds.
As for those who are a bit more experienced and can take the heat when it comes to Korean cuisine, the kim chee and the daikon kim chee are absolute must-haves. Park also let me in on an inside secret that any kim chee lover will undoubtedly relish. While most foods are best when served fresh, she says kim chee tastes the finest when served at least one day old.
“Yet our Korean customers can’t get enough of the raw crab,” Park says. And while it may be considered an acquired taste for some, it’s quite alluring to the eye, as it’s seasoned with just the right amount of shoyu and chili pepper.
A total of six side dishes come with any meal when ordering from the kitchen or a barbecue plate. If you choose to go yakiniku style, however, the fresh round onion salad also is included with the array of banchan.
Here’s a tip: Banchan tastes best with lots of meat and plenty of rice, so work up a gigantic appetite and keep bowls of those fluffy carbs coming!
626 Sheridan Street
Frog House Restaurant
By now you must know that it’s a tried and true Korean custom to have banchan with every meal, so it’s no surprise that Frog House Restaurant on Kalakaua Avenue serves up some stiff competition in regard to some of the best Korean side dishes in town.
Owner Jeannie Bae took over the Frog House last year and says customers love ordering the delicious kalbi plate and cooking up their meals fresh atop the yakiniku grill — and while all of that is grand, I couldn’t resist the urge to marvel in the banchan before me.
“The lunch plate comes with six different side dishes, while dinner comes with seven,” Bae explains, noting that rice also is included with every meal.
For starters, the eggplant banchan is irresistible to the palate. Seasoned with sesame oil, a dash of salt and onions, the side dish is a top choice among Koreans, according to Bae. And surprisingly, it’s not very spicy.
Many locals, however, gravitate toward the fishcake, which is smooth in texture and sweeter in flavor — a great choice when choosing to play it safe in the world of spicy, hot Korean cuisine.
However, if you can handle the heat, opt for the radish, cucumber and jalapeno peppers. Now, this will most certainly awaken all your senses.
“It’s flavored with vinegar and shoyu; it’s really spicy,” Bae states.
With that, I took her word for it and decided I needed to work my way up to that ultimate level of fiery hotness. Not quite there yet, I was quite satisfied with the cucumber kim chee and tasty choy sum, expertly seasoned with sesame seed oil, salt and sesame seeds.
1604 Kalakaua Avenue