Some like it hot
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Slide into one of Million Restaurant’s comfy red and tan vinyl booths (some boast a view right into the kitchen) and you’ll soon learn what keeps customers coming back. It’s a setting as intimate and familiar as a living room. Traditional Korean dishes served by friendly staff like manager Diana Paik are in tune with the homey feel. This is all the kind of mothering you need during a midday duck out of the office.
Although the atmosphere may be tranquil, the food is vibrant. Those who know Korean cuisine know the kick that comes with it. And this month, Million’s specials bring on the heat, both in temperature and flavor.
Here’s a hot tip for clam chowder fans: a steaming bowl of Kal Gook Su ($9.95) might just be your new obsession. Salty broth touched with cream and clams still in their shells add richness, while thick hand-made noodles and chunks of potatoes, zucchini and carrots fortify the soup. Here you are safe to slurp. The soup has even won the approval of Paik’s two-year old granddaughter Noba.
O-Jing Eo Dol Sot Bab ($11.95) is music to any chile lover’s ears. A stir-fry of vegetables and firm squid pieces are added to a rice-filled hot stone pot, covered in the house chile sauce, then fired on the stove. The massive bowl arrives at the table with its contents crackling and exuding an aroma of sesame oil. Mouthfuls of the rice and toppings doused in the homemade chile-paste based sauce leave a warm, glowing feeling — certainly the kind of buzz chile fanatics chase. It’s no wonder the ingredients are a guarded secret.
What is no secret is the science behind the spice. Found in most plants belonging to the genus Capsicum, the chemical capsaicin is what gives hot pepper’s their piquancy. And if you consume enough, the chemical can even cause an endorphin rush. Regardless of whether you love or hate the burning sensation, we have feathered friends to thank for chiles. Yes, birds were the pioneers of pepper. Attracted by the bright colors and unaffected by the sting of capsaicin, hungry birds find peppers a treat and played a large role in spreading the seeds around — a quid pro quo for both species.
So next time you reach for the gochujang (the capsaicin-laden yet sweetish Korean chile paste) or settle on one of Million’s spicy offerings, realize that lunch is not strictly for the birds.
626 Sheridan St., Honolulu
Open daily, 11 a.m-11 p.m.