I had a quick Manhattan weekend with Number One Daughter to check out her new home this Fall, the Fashion Institute of Technology. Woot woot for my smart and creative girlie! We stayed in a hotel room on West 32nd Street, alias Korean Way, which is an exciting block dotted with Korean language store signs, restaurants and lots of gorgeous people walking up and down the sidewalks even late, late into the night.
For two rubes from upstate New York this was all quite enervating, and we were pleased to be able to roll downstairs from our hotel when we were tired and famished from our train and walking journey (Broadway jogs around a bit more than I had remembered) and grab a delightful and exotic lunch at New Wonjo Restaurant (23 West 32nd Street). My girl has always loved Chinese and Japanese food, and even has us making our own sushi at home on occasion, so we were both primed to try out Korean food.
We each ordered a hot, steaming bowl of bibimbap; hers with chicken, a seafood version for me garnished with perfectly cooked squid, shrimp and tiny little mussels. Bibimbap is a blend of rice, cooked vegetables and some kind of protein, topped with an egg (blessedly fried hard for my tastes) and some crumbled nori. It's a satisfying pot that we both tried to consume in its entirety, but were unable to achieve. Our bimbimbap was served in a searingly hot stone bowl that kept our lunch sizzling throughout our meal and it was great fun to pluck choice bits out with our chopsticks.
A telling reason why we weren't able to clean our stone bowls was because of all the little dishes of Korean tidbits which our waiter brought out before our main course was on the scene. Later research tells me that these tastes are called banchan, and are traditionally served to accompany a Korean meal or a big communal bowl of rice, stew or barbeque.
There was a bit of a Korean-English language barrier between us and the restaurant staff so I wasn't able to find out what the banchan consisted of, but we figured out that we had some cabbage kimchi, some radish or daikon kimchi, some cold sauteed Asian greens, tiny little dried fish sauteed with peanuts in a brown sauce (my daughter wouldn't eat them because each fish retained its little dried eyes), a clear noodle salad, some kind of bony fish in a sweetish sauce (mackerel?), Korean meatballs and a pyramidal pile of mashed sweet potato (or a relative) with a dried cranberry cap. I think that's what we ate, anyway.
This has me all excited to try out some Korean cooking at home and I've been bookmarking recipes like crazy on the Internet. I love those clear mung bean and sweet potato noodles that we buy at the Asian Market in Albany (the sweet potato ones are tinged an intriguing pale blue-green) so we'll have to venture there soon to stock up on supplies).
If anyone more familiar with Korean food than I has any great recipes to share or comments on what we actually dined on in the photos, I'd love to hear more...