What’s the Deal with Korean Food? Korean BBQ
Last week I rolled into Oakland for some Korean BBQ with my boy Lloyd Ross, proprietor of Oakland Dust. Oakland Dust has the absolute best dry rubs and BBQ sauces on the planet, so get yourself dusted and try some! You can find his line at Dreagers, Lunardi’s, Diablo Foods, Safeway and online. Give them a follow-on Instagram (@oaklanddust) and find them on the Web at www.Oaklanddust.com.
Lloyd and I have a friendship based on food and cooking. We meet once a week to try new restaurants, and our one rule is, no rules! Five Star to Dive Bar all the way!!
So, this week we hit Ohgane for some Korean BBQ … Korean food. What’s the deal? Let’s start with Korea. What do we really know about Korea? A psychotic midget dictator in the North with a hard on for nuclear weapons, and PSY in the South; that’s the band that took over the world with its monster pop song, “Gangnam Style.” So, you say, shit’s a little weird? What a fucking dichotomy right? A dick in the North and a dance in the South. A dickotomy! What’s next? Deliverance as a Broadway musical? Hmm, might actually work if the boys from South Park were at the helm.
Anyway, I think my Korean friends would agree: The food of Korea is some of the toughest to nail down outside its national food, Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), and its BBQ. The food can be downright whacky. It’s like Kim Jong-un did the shopping and PSY was the chef.
I’m serious! Korean BBQ is straightforward, but a lot of the rest of it can leave you scratching your head. Who came up with this shit?! One of the most comical dishes is Budae Jjigae (Army Stew). It’s a soup made up of melt-your-face-off broth, spam, hot dogs, Portuguese sausage, pork and beans, ground sausage, instant noodles, and tofu. Can you say, “pass the Lipitor” in Korean? It’s as if a stoner Iron Chef or an episode of Chopped were held at a 7-11. “Sorry chef, your dish was … too focused; we felt that leaving out a microwaveable bean/cheese burrito, Slurpee and pump nacho cheese showed a complete lack of imagination.” You’ve been chopped!
The history of Budae Jjigae goes back to the Korean War and what was available with the large number of American soldiers in town. A LOT of, Spam, Pork and Beans and Hot Dogs. You use what you have, and from that, new and sometimes whacky things come together. Koreans love this dish. I love it too, but it takes … let’s say an adventurous spirit to jump in.
On to Korean BBQ. My belief is that the best food experiences are the ones where the food is the central focus, with friends and family gathered around a table. Hot Pot, Fondue, Korean BBQ, Shabu Shabu—anything where everyone’s orientation is toward each other over a boiling caldron or grill. No smart phones, just interactive cooking and conversation. That’s what Korean BBQ is all about, and if you haven’t tried it, you should definitely check it out.
Here’s how to do it: You order raw meats and fish, which you cook on a BBQ built into the table. You’re given tongs and chop sticks to rotate and cook your food, along with sauces to dip your cooked food into. Some of the more traditional Korean places cook and cut up your food for you. As you cook more and more meats the grill will get dirty and the staff will periodically change out the grill with a clean one. If they don’t, asking for a clean grill is perfectly acceptable.
You’ll also be served something called “Banchan”—small plates of fermented vegetables—and the choices are endless. We were served 15 Banchans, and they were all tasty, but there are so many of them they’ll take up every square inch of the table. So, you spend a good amount of time passing and rearranging plates to keep things moving.
Rule #1 – Never pour your own beer or Soju; it’s considered bad etiquette. So, if you’re very thirsty and your table mate isn’t paying attention, an elbow to the rib cage, shin kick, or backhand is considered appropriate. Wake the fuck up dude and pour my beer! WTF!! Also, dont be the person who orders a Budweiser, when eating Korean, drink Korean. Order a Hite which is my favorite Korean Lager.
Korean BBQ is also about taking your time, this isn’t fast food. Its all about the meal, good conversation, relaxing and enjoying yourself. So, sit down relax and eat at a relatively slow pace.
Lastly, on your way out, grab a toothpick, I guarantee your grill will look like a used BBQ grill when you’re finished eating.
After an hour and a half of stuffing our faces, Lloyd and I waddled out, smelling of BBQ and feeling quite happy. As we headed into the parking lot, I looked at Lloyd and started throwing down my best Gangnam dance moves. Heyyyyyy sexy lady, ohhp ohhp ohhp ohhp! He just laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “Get in the Uber, dummy, and let’s go grab another beer.”
If you enjoyed that story check out this story on Sushi at Pabu in San Francisco.