This is banchan, a series of small side dishes that appear as if by magic on your table at the start of any Korean meal. They are supposed to be complimentary – restaurants that charge you for your banchan are slightly taking the piss, although you may find more Westernised restaurants do charge by the dish – and re-filled if you’d like more. (Which I generally do.)
I think I had eaten Korean food once before I came to Manhattan. But with Dok Suni, one of the best known Korean restaurants in New York round the corner from our old apartment in the East Village, there really was no excuse. I discovered I loved it so much that I started taking my UK vistors there – from my best friend to Osman Yousefzada.
And then I met Judy who knows Korean food inside out, and who has made it her mission to introduce me to its finer points. Last Thursday when we were feeling particularly mis and in need of comfort food, we headed to Manhattan’s Koreatown on 32nd between Broadway & 5th Avenue, for warming soup.
This is what we ate. From top right clockwise.
Kong-namul Cold boiled soybean sprouts with sesame oil, salt, chopped onions/scallions & garlic
Kimchee Napa cabbage/Chinese leaves seasoned with chili peppers and salt
Japchae Made from dangmyeon (cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch), stir fried in sesame oil with onion, spinach, carrots and mushrooms, flavoured with soy sauce, chopped onions/scallions, brown sugar, garlic & sesame seeds.
And the piece de resistance: soon dubu jjigae.
It’s a hot soup, filled with soft fresh as a daisy tofu (dubu) and, in my case, vegetables, but often beef, pork or shrimp, served in an oven hot cast iron mini cauldron, with the liquid still bubbling away as it comes to the table. You can order it as spicy as you wish (I asked for spicy and it came flecked with red peppers. HOT. Delicious.
Raw egg is usually put in the jjigae while it is still boiling, but I fear the raw egg, so I left it out of my bowl. It’s served with a dish of cooked white rice,onto which you spoon the soup, and eaten along with several of the banchan.