Thursday, April 27, 2006
Untitled, 2006: Mystery Food Stall at California Market, Koreatown
You'd think by now I would know his name.
I've paid quite a few visits to this Korean food stall located inside Koreatown's California Market, yet I still don't know what to call it because all the signs are in Korean. Yes, my friends, this is the John Doe of Korean food stalls. Or should I call it John Kim? (Yoo-hoo readers, this is your cue to interject...if you know Korean, please tell me what the hell it's called)
Despite the language barrier, I can tell John Kim is a pretty straightforward kind of guy. There are about 20 things on his menu, all identified by a colorful picture, a number, the price and a description in Korean. There are things I can recognize like bulgogi and daeji bulgogi, kim bap and kimchi jigae. And there are a few things, mostly soup and noodle based items that I've seen before but can't remember the name of or read them for that matter. I go to John Kim everytime, though, for his bibim naeng myun, or spicy cold noodle with beef. "Number 19," I always say to the cashier, pointing to the menuboard picture above.
I wouldn't say it's eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head good or anything, but it's certainly pretty damn decent. When California Market is the last stop on a long Sunday afternoon of dodging crowds and traffic while running errands and grocery shopping, a bowl of this sinus clearing stuff from John Kim is the perfect pick me up.
I always take mine to go because one, I don't want to be seen eating inside California Market and two, because well, where would I leave my cart? Of course I could shop after I eat, but you know, I'm just not that smart. So I bring the to go box home with me, having to endure the smell of red pepper paste, sesame oil and cucumbers the entire car ride.
Mr. Kim is practical--he always wraps my noodles in a plastic bag before it goes into the takeout container, helping to prevent any unfortunate spills in the car and also allowing the ingredients to marinate a little more until I get home. I wish I owned one of those cool metal bowls that these types of noodle dishes usually come in at the restaurants, but I don't, so instead, I dump the bag of noodles into the next best thing--a white Corning Ware bowl with little country prints on the side--and cut the noodles with kitchen shears to make them a little easier to pull apart. And with bowl and a bottled water in hand, I always head over to the TV to enjoy my fiery afternoon meal. I will admit that taking the noodles to go takes slightly away from the perfect chewiness these types of buckwheat noodles, but they do have a pretty good pull regardless. The spiciness is certainly appropriate though--not quite an immediate tongue numbing spiciness, but a spiciness that starts more salty at first, a wonderful blend of red pepper and sesame oil, and then slowly creeps up on you the more you eat--perfect for eating while cussing out all the stupid girls on My Super Sweet Sixteen.
Fifteen to twenty minutes into the meal, I'm all worked up, on one hand sweating because of the noodles themselves, and on the other, shaking my fist at all the underage primadonnas on the screen in front of me. Fortunately for me, there is always a good amount fo cooling acoutrements that always come with bibim naeng myun. There are cooling, thinly sliced cucumbers, as well as julienned pickled carrots and daikon, but what is probably the most unique item in this dish are the paper thin wedges of crisp, sweet Korean pear. Slices of beef and half a boiled egg add lend some neutrality (as well as protein) to the dish.
By the time I'm done, my belly is full and my nose is running, and yet again, I let a man whose name I don't even know make me cry. Thanks alot, John Kim.
John Kim at The California Market
450 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020