Bruce's Blog

a handful of dimes and a jukebox

Chung Dam1I was joined by my friends Yasmin and Stefan for my Thursday lunch this week. Yasmin and I exchanged ideas about where to go, finally deciding on the Chung Dam, because I think it’s the best all-around Korean restaurant that I’ve been to.

There are so many specialty places in town: noodle shops, soup, BBQ, even a place that specializes in goat dishes. Yasmin and Stefan say they definately want to try the goat place next time! 🙂 Stefan hasn’t had a lot of exposure to Korean food and Yasmin has had plenty of bibimbop and bulgogi and wanted to be exposed to new stuff.   So that was our initial goal: “Always go for the new experience”, as Dame Marjorie Chardin advised.

Yasmin and Stefan live downtown, so they took the Red line to Wilshire and Western, just a few blocks from the restaurant.  Is it me, or are the blocks in this area of LA are about 2 or 3 times as big as anywhere else?
Chung Dam2Anyway, we met at the restaurant and decided that we wanted to order three dishes to share and asked the waitress for advice to find three contrasting and complimentary dishes.

The waitress was so sweet and took very nice care of us.  The panchan was excellent, especially some dish of flavored greens that the waitress was unable to translate into English.  There were the standard bean sprouts in sesame oil, kimchi, spinach, etc.   I love the light soup that they bring out, with the little bits of meat and korean radish.

I also love the silvery dish they serve rice in. Yasmin said it was a bit disconcerting for her because she is accustomed to eating rice in the Japanese style, picking up the bowl and bringing it towards your mouth, and the silvery bowl made it too hot to do that. Yasmin was, among her many academic achievements, a Japanese major at UCLA.

Chung Dam3daejibulgogi-ssambap
Marinated spicy pork with onions and scallions

So we did get one bulgogi-ish dish. Daeji means pork, and bulgogi is the name for this kind of marinated meat. It’s usually marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, scallions and other yummy stuff.  The Chung Dam makes wonderful bulgogi, richly flavored.

The other day at home I made a bulgogi hamburger, martinating the patties. I thought I was quite clever and inventive, and now I read on wikipedia that there are fast-food chains in Korea that serve bulgogi burgers, and they are topped with regular hamburger toppings, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.

At lunch we were talking about how all cultures, or many anyway, seem to share certain food concepts. A ssambap is like a Korean soft taco, using leaves rather than tortillas. At Chung Dam, they bring a variety, including romain leaves, perilla, cabbage and kelp. The name is derived from the Korean word “ssada“, meaning “to wrap up”.

I wish I knew the name of the stuff that they bring out which you can optionally put on your leaf along with the meat. You can put anything else you like from the panchan with it, but this special stuff is amazing.

Chung Dam4

yuhmsoo jeongol ttukbaegi
lamb in a spicy broth

I think “yuhmsoo” must mean lamb, because on the menu I see we could have gotten gopchang jeongol ttukbaegi, which is beef tripe in a spicy broth. A jeongol is a stew or casserole, similar to the Korean stew jjigae. The difference is that jjigaes have one principal ingredient and generally jeongols usually contain a variety of main ingredients. Ttukbaegi refers to the unglazed earthenware pot in which the stew is cooked and served.  Unfortunately I didn’t take the picture of the jeongol in the ttukbaegi, but in my personal bowl.

This dish was amazingly complex, spicy for sure, but not overly, and I found it hard to stop eating it. It felt very comforting to me.

Chung Dam5nokdujeon

pan-fried mung beans

The word jeon refers to the pancake-like dishes in Korean cuisine. There are (at least) two major varieties of jeon that I’ve tried, and I’ve made both of these at home. The first is a kind made with flour and rice flour and sometimes an egg thrown in. I’ve made these at home with zucchini and/or scallions. The other kind is what I call a Korean latke: it’s grated potatos and onions.

So by now you won’t be surprised to find out that nokdu means “mung bean”. As it turns out, I’d made Korean latkes with basil on Wednesday night, and my wife had leftovers for breakfast on Thursday. So on Friday morning, we tried the leftovers of the pokdujeon from Chung Dam. She loved those, but she says she still likes mine too, which were very different in the way they were cooked. I made mine more like a latke, more crisp on the outside.  These had a lucious texture, smooth and refined.  Now that I know what I’m going for, I’m going to try to get the Korean texture next time and save latkes for Channukah. 🙂

ChungDam Korean BBQ
808 S. Western Ave.  #207
Los Angeles, CA 90005

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