Ginger, Spice and Everything Korean

Columns What's for Lunch?

September 8, 2013

Story By: Rachel Breit | Photos by: Rachel Breit

What do Jamba Juice and Korean Hibiscus BBQ have in common? A Vitamix blender.

The Vitamix, used in both restaurants and homes, is the secret ingredient that makes mouths water for favorites such as kalbi at the Korean takeout eatery.

The perfect size for lunch, the Mini Kal Bi plate ($10) includes two pieces of short ribs, hapa rice (half white, half brown) and a choice of two vegetable sides. So where does the Vitamix come into the equation?

“We grind herbs and seasonings to create the flavor, that Korean taste,” explains co-owner Raymond Kodani, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Shirley. The industrious Vitamix breaks through the fibers of ginger to release the spice and aromatics. Onion and garlic also get in the mix. “If you don’t have enough garlic, it doesn’t have that richness of taste,” says Kodani. A bit of shoyu is added to the fresh paste, and the kalbi marinade is born. After marinating, charbroiling imparts a touch of smokiness to the short ribs.

The fresh mix also seasons the ribeye of the meat jun, but in different proportions than the kalbi. Ribeye is used in the recipe, since it is such a flavorful cut of meat. The kitchen handpicks the leanest cuts so that the jun holds its flat shape. “Meat jun is only available in Hawaii,” says Kodani. “It’s not something that came out of Korea. They have a different type of jun, it’s like a hamburger jun.”

Fortunately, we get to enjoy this unique and delicious cuisine in Mini Meat Jun ($7.75). The meat’s marinade seeps through to the eggy layer, making dipping sauce purely optional.

The meat at Korean Hibiscus BBQ is handled with care and so are the vegetables. The vegetable sides offered with entrees inhabit a special place in the Kodani family’s hearts. The word “sides” is perhaps a misnomer, as the vegetarian offerings are anything but marginal. The time-intensive recipes that require attention to detail are a labor of love. In fact, the Kodanis’ philosophy behind their food is to cook as if they were cooking for family.

“Whatever you see here is what our grand-kids eat,” says Kodani. “We don’t eat anything different than what we serve our customers.”

One such example are the sweetened shoyu potatoes. In order to provide a healthy, mayonnaise-free alternative to potato salad, the kitchen staff slow-boils the potatoes in a shoyu broth for maximum flavor.

“It’s humbug to make,” Kodani says of preparing the dish. “It takes time. You don’t want to burn it, and you have to keep turning it and watching it.”

The 13 Korean-style vegetables and variety of entrees allow customization to satisfy every lunchtime craving. Seating is limited, so grab-and-go is the way to go, as is cash — the restaurant does not take plastic. Kodani ensures that the turn-around for walk-in orders is quick, but you can also call or fax orders in as well, especially large ones.

Korean Hibiscus BBQ

Kaimuki Shopping Center Lower level
3221 Waialae Ave.
734-8232
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

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