When I first started at Gammeeok I didn’t think I’d make it. Although I grew up with the different ethnic groups that make up the Asian community, I had little to no experience with Korean food. Thai food, Filipino food, Japanese food, Vietnamese food, Chinese food, I’m well versed in those cuisines. It wasn’t until I trained, which was really just throwing me on the floor during busy season, that I realized I’d never eaten Korean food before (beyond kimchi and barbecue)! Reflecting back, I only truly knew two Korean people- one half British, the other a co-worker adopted by white parents.
K-Town was for karaoke (which we didn’t do often) and that rooftop bar, with the sweet ass happy hour deals. Meaning I wasn’t immersed in the culture the way my peers pulled me into theirs, but I love learning, I love experiencing other customs. Life would truly be a dull, gray, rainbow without the spectrum of heritages across the human race.
In the beginning I literally couldn’t take an order without guests pointing at the menu. I didn’t understand a lick of what anybody was saying. The words were foreign, because it was a foreign language. I didn’t speak Korean, nor did I know the side condiments that went with each dish. There was no formal training, or structure, I learned on the fly, studying the menu on my first solo shift. Not a soul came in that Monday, thank the Almighty God. I spent every second studying what comes with each meal. Next shift I had it memorized.
In honor of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s recent visit to the States, as well as Asian American Pacific Islander Month, here are my faves:
Jokbal (photo one)- this is my favorite dish of all, pig trotters. Be it spicy or regular, you can’t go wrong. The shrimp sauce and bean paste you dip the regular jokbal in is sooooooo good, albeit salty (love salt, so it’s right up my alley). It’s just perfectly textured, perfectly savory.
Seolleong Tang (photo two)– my favorite soup, at one point I ate it everyday for two weeks straight. Deadass. It’s sliced brisket, noodles and rice in an ox bone broth. It’s served with scallions, salt and pepper. I do my own thing by dipping the brisket in soy sauce. For some reason this is the best soup to eat alongside kimichi. People often put the jus from kimchi directly in their soup to spice it up. Please note this soup is served sans seasoning, you have to flavor it to your liking. It gets a bad wrap due to folks not salting it themselves, which is incredibly frustrating cause it’s so damn good. It’s now a comfort food for me. Also I think it gives you an energy boost. I’m wide awake after eating seolleong tang, it’s wild.
Japchae (photo three)- stir fried glass noodles mixed with vegetables and typically beef, so fucking gooooooodddddddd. Pretty self explanatory.
Pajeon- aka seafood pancake, assorted seafood and peppers mixed with flour, dipped into a pepper soy sauce. Fun fact, tastes excellent with cheese on top.
Dolsot Bibimbap- a sizzling, hot, bowl of rice and vegetables served with beef, an egg and gochujang sauce. I eat mine with added cheese, for a burst of flavor.
Sogogi Gukbap- I love the galbi tang, love the samgye tang, but I love love the sogogi gukbap. A spicy ox bone broth soup, with cubes of beef and vegetables. So fucking good.
Kimchi- fermented cabbage is a staple in any Korean meal. Fun fact, kimichi is not only a probiotic, but good for anti-aging. The only downside, high sodium levels. As my palette evolves, I’ve found I prefer the kkakdugi, like most older people. It’s like when you like sweet wine as a youth, then realize dry is king.
Beyond the food, what I learned working at my first Korean restaurant is humanity, that language is learned, even Koreans had to learn it. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget when you’re not pushed out of your comfort zone. Now I have no problem understanding my guests, because practice makes perfect, no matter who you are. Being able to master the menu gave me confidence, now I can’t fathom that abai sundae was gibberish to me. Cause guess what guys? Race is a social construct. We’re all one race, human, with different ethnic groups, whose appearances formed based on our environment. Just like the beaks of Charles Darwin’s finches. Wild right? Via: Eater (Wonho Frank Lee), Cook With Dana & Cookerru