Some would say there’s nothing better than chicken noodle soup on a cold day, but I disagree. After spending a year in South Korea, I’ve found that nothing warms me up like a hot dolsot (stone bowl) full of kimchi jigae (gim-chee gee-gay), and my favorite place to get it here in Denver is Han Kang. As a native New Mexican, I have a penchant for spicy foods and Korean cooking doesn’t disappoint. Kimchi Jigae is a traditional Korean stew made mostly from kimchi, fatty slices of pork and green onions. There’s also some garlic and red chile flakes in there for the broth. It’s served with a small bowl of rice, and I enjoy dipping a spoon filled with rice into my hot soup. Koreans never do this, because the Jigae is often served to the whole table and it would be rude to dip your personal rice into the communal soup bowl. But here in America (where the individual is hallowed) the soup is served up in single portions. It’s also the perfect hangover cure (see Titanic, below).
If a stew doesn’t strike your fancy, try some bibimbap. This dish is different all over Korea, mostly in the vegetables that come on it. Normal bibimbap is served in a metal bowl: rice on the bottom and piles of different vegetables, mushrooms, or meat and a fried egg on the top. Squirt some red pepper paste over it and mix it up. If it’s cold out, get your bibimbap sizzling in a stone bowl and they’ll call it Dolsot Bibimbap. The longer you let it sit, the crispier the rice on the outside will get, giving it a chewy toasted texture.
If you’ve got a few friends, I have to recommend samgyeopsal (sam-gee-up-sal). In Korea, all of the teachers loved to go out on the weekends and sit cross-legged at the long tables, drinking soju and beer and grilling their samgyeopsal. In America they’ll seat you at a table, but you still get to grill the thick slices of pork yourself. Samgyeopsal meat looks like very thick cut, uncured bacon. The DIY doesn’t stop there: after grilling the meat (and cutting it up with scissors!) you’ll wrap it in a perilla leaf, add some red pepper paste, garlic, onions, and so on to build your own little bite-sized leafwrap. While the meat is cooking, drink some soju! This Korean alcohol is similar to sake, but without the much venerated history. The rules for a Korean drinking game, called Titanic, are below.
I go to Han Kang because the service is friendly and the food is amazing. It’s the closest thing to what I remember having in Korea that I’ve found in Denver. If you know of another great place to get Korean, please let me know in the comments!
A drinking game popular with foreigners in Korea is called Titanic. Instructions:
1. Fill a beer glass half way to the top.
2. Carefully drop a shot glass into it, so that it floats.
3. Take turns pouring as little soju into the glass as you can. Because of the unique construction of Korean beer glasses, the space between the shotglass and the wall of the beer glass will create surface tension.
4. The person who causes the glass to sink has to chug the whole thing.
5. Refill, repeat.