Explore power of Korean cuisine at Han Yang
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Korean food is rich in nutrition, balanced in content and low in calories. Koreans eat more garlic per capita than any other nation on Earth. Rice is the basis of all meals, and is accompanied by a variety of side dishes. Without rice, one cannot have a legitimate meal, say the Koreans. Here in Hawai'i, many of us feel the same way. Soy sauce, soybean paste, red pepper paste, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds are the essential Korean seasonings.
Koreans eat their rice and soup with a spoon, and side dishes with chopsticks. Dining traditions common elsewhere in Asia apply in North and South Korea, such as not spiking your chopsticks in the rice (this symbolizes that the rice is reserved for the dead). And it's customary for the eldest person in your group to begin eating before starting yourself.
When seated at Han Yang, you are served seven cool side dishes to accompany your meal. There was a delicious garlicky eggplant, cabbage kimchee, cucumber kimchee, shredded radish, sprouts, yellow squash, and taegu, the sweet and chewy dried cuttlefish so often seen at Korean places.
The seaweed soup was quite nice, richer in flavor than others I have tried. A side order of fried mandoo ($5.15 for 10 large dumplings) was quite greasy, but the outer wrapper was firm and chewy, and the ground-pork filling was moist and flavorful, especially when dipped into soy sauce, sesame and green-onion sauce. More adventurous souls might want a side order of seasoned raw beef ($8.50) or the steamed pig's feet ($14).
I've always been most impressed with the way adept Korean cooks can barbecue meats. It's a simple task; however, we all know how difficult it is to end up with a tender and flavorful finished product. I went for the Han Yang special ($8.75), which was a huge plate filled with kalbi (short ribs), barbecued beefsteak (seemed like the skirt/flank cut), thin boneless chicken thigh, two mandoo, a broiled shrimp in its shell, along with rice and vegetables, macaroni salad and plain cabbage.
The bulgogi plate ($7.50) was excellent. Thin, tender slices of beef are marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, a touch of sugar and other seasonings, and then brought out on a huge sizzling black cast-iron platter.
One of the popular Korean dishes in which the technique of mixing is revealed clearly is bibim bahb ($5.25). The cold-noodle version of this dish is called bibim kooksoo ($5.15), a dish that many look upon as a bit curious. A whole slew of ingredients (rice, bits of meat, seasoned vegetables and a fried egg) are thrown in together and mixed up; a blend is achieved through the medium of sesame oil and the wonderfully tasty chili paste called kochujang. The ingredients for this paste chiles, soy beans, rice, barley, water, honey and salt make for a great condiment. It's different from the chili pastes of other Asian cuisines in that its taste is richer with more depth.
I am fascinated by the folklore surrounding Korean food history. If you are a real food buff, it'll be worth your while to investigate the cosmic powers of space, time, color, ethics, body and taste as they relate to Korean cuisine.
Korean food can offer a few delightful surprises to your taste buds. You can enjoy flavorful dishes without too much spice (especially if you steer clear of the hot red chili paste and the kimchee). And, for those who enjoy a bit of fire, you'll love Han Yang.
Reach Matthew Gray at ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com