Hot Summer, Cold Noodles

Every summer growing up, from when I was in my mother' womb until I was 16 and wanted to stay home and work instead, we shipped off to Seoul the minute the school bell tolled on the last day. I was always sad to lose the opportunity to hang out with my friends all summer, but the excitement of watching movies on the plane and walking through the arrival gates at Kimpo Airport to the eagerly awaiting faces of my kin more than made up for it. For three whole months every year we lived with my grandmother, immersed in Korean society and culture. Every late August my sister and I would wonder, "would we even remember how to speak English when we got back?"

Since we were always only there for the summer, and since we had such a big extended family with varying tastes, the one constant for lunchtime meals was NAENG-MYUN. These cold buckwheat noodles, which actually hail from North Korea, are the perfect way to beat the heat and feed young and old alike. 

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Naeng-Myun
Korea's #1 summertime meal
Buckwheat noodles in cold beef broth topped with flank steak, cucumber, Asian pear, pickled radish, white kimchi, hard boiled egg, spicy sauce, and yellow My Friend's Mustard

LA Kalbi
popularized in LA's Koreatown
Thin cross-cut BBQ short ribs marinated in soy, onion, & Asian pear

Melona Ice Cream
honeydew melon flavored ice cream

Aloha Korea

Spam is hands-down my favorite food from childhood. For some it's hot dogs, or pizza, or brownies (all of which I love too, of course), but the pure genius of Spam amazed me since I was wee. My mom made us egg fried Spam for snacks or as banchan, and I would happily eat nothing but that and rice for many meals. Spam was also heavily featured in budae-jjigae (Korean army stew), and I would chase each piece down before anyone else could and hoard them until the end. What's not to love? It's a perfect blend of porky, meaty, and salty.

Koreans seriously love Spam. Every department store, especially the fancy ones, sells gift packs of Spam, wrapped in plastic and a huge bow so you can take them to your in-laws for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). You're definitely something if you bring over a case of O.G. Spam; Spam is so popular that Korea manufactures a variety of knock-offs (I know, how can you make Spam even cheaper?!). 

You know who else loves Spam? Hawaiians! Both cultures adopted Spam with a die-hard passion post-war, incorporating the canned meat into delicious versions of their own people's foods and elevating something that most Americans look down upon in horror. Well, joke's on you folks, cuz that's more Spam for me.

For this Korean-Hawaiian pop-up I started with Spam, and built a menu around other natural crossovers the two cultures share – fresh, raw seafood in Hawaii's poke / Korea's hwe dup bap, slow-cooked pork in Hawaii's kalua pig / Korea's bossam, and earthy taro in Hawaii's poi / Korea's to-ran.

pineapple kimchi

pineapple kimchi

poke hwe dup bap

poke hwe dup bap

kalua pig & pineapple kimchi sliders

kalua pig & pineapple kimchi sliders

poi boong-uh-bbang (red bean stuffed waffle)

poi boong-uh-bbang (red bean stuffed waffle)

banana leaf wrapped kalua pig

banana leaf wrapped kalua pig

spam jeon musubi

spam jeon musubi

Pork N' Waffles

Roscoe's Chicken N' Waffles is one of the most iconic culinary institutions in LA – something that was so uniquely associated with downtown when I was growing up. Nowadays you can find chicken and waffles on any self-respecting brunch menu in pretty much any town, but back in the 90s it was still an oxymoron for people. Why chicken? With waffles? It's a dish that can't make up its mind about being breakfast food or a dinner meal...

But I always saw the beauty in this union – mainly because of the whole new world of SAUCES it opened up. Instead of just maple syrup on waffles, or gravy on chicken, you can have both! And more!

Just like with Chinese food, Koreans have a set menu of Japanese they love and have co-opted as their own. Donkatsu is a spin on the Japanese tonkatsu – aka fried pork cutlet, aka schnitzel, aka chicken fried chicken (see how good food pervades all cultures?). The differences between the two manifests mainly through the donkatsu sauce and the accoutrements: usually a coleslaw with mayo dressing, crunchy radish kimchi (kkakdugi), and something pickled.

Pork Donkatsu + Kimchi Scallion Waffles smothered in donkatsu gravy & sambal maple syrup

Pork Donkatsu + Kimchi Scallion Waffles smothered in donkatsu gravy & sambal maple syrup

Kimcheeze Grits topped with Ritz crackers & scallions

Kimcheeze Grits topped with Ritz crackers & scallions

Roasted goguma (Korean sweet potatoes)

Roasted goguma (Korean sweet potatoes)

Goguma (Korean sweet potato) Pies!

Goguma (Korean sweet potato) Pies!

Donkatsu & Waffles with Asian chive coleslaw, Kkakdugi (radish kimchi) and soy pickled peppers

Donkatsu & Waffles with Asian chive coleslaw, Kkakdugi (radish kimchi) and soy pickled peppers

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Pork N' Waffles

Korean-Japanese Donkatsu (crispy pork cutlet)
Kimchi Scallion Waffles
Donkatsu gravy
Sambal Maple Syrup
Sides: Kkakdugi (radish kimchi), soy pickled peppers, Asian chive coleslaw

Kimcheeze Grits

Goguma (Korean Sweet Potato) Pie

Korean Jjigae Soup Dumplings

When I tried my first soup dumpling at New York's Joe Shanghai in Chinatown, my mind was BLOWN. Like almost everybody who tried these little soup & meat filled dough pockets I thought, "how did they get the soup into the dumpling?!" The secret is actually prety simple, just extremely gelatinous stock, made possible by either copious amounts of bones or a little bit of gelatin/aspic. That's the secret to the lip-smacking deliciousness in these little soup dumplings.

Jjigae is a staple of Korean meals at home – a simple stew made with a handful of ingredients to create a strong, bold flavor that pairs perfectly with a bowl of rice. Kimchi jjigae is a spicy soup featuring kimchi (of course), pork, and tofu and dwenjang jjigae is an earthy stew with zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, and fermented soybean. 

Kneading fresh dough for soup dumpling wrappers

Kneading fresh dough for soup dumpling wrappers

MEAT JELLO! Kimchi Jjigae soup filling for dumplings

MEAT JELLO! Kimchi Jjigae soup filling for dumplings

Takes a lot of hands to make a lot of dumplings

Takes a lot of hands to make a lot of dumplings

Rice & Banchan: kimchi, sesame spinach, Asian chive pancake

Rice & Banchan: kimchi, sesame spinach, Asian chive pancake

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Kimchi Jjigae Soup Dumplings

kimchi & pork broth; kimchi, pork, tofu, scallion filling

Dwenjang Jjigae Soup Dumplings

anchovy, shiitake, dwenjang broth; shiitake, dwenjang, tofu, zucchini, onion, mushroom, Korean pepper filling

Rice & Banchan

Cabbage Kimchi, Sesame Spinach, Asian Chive Pancake