The plan is to order your soft tofu soup and wait while the staff cover your table in kimchi and banchan - little dishes of hot pickled delights to accompany the rice. The rice is spooned into metal bowls: Koreans do not pick up their rice bowls like Chinese and Japanese. Tea is then poured into the hot stoneware rice serving bowl to make a special soupy tea-rice for those who like a bit of the burned rice as a hot beverage.
Kimchi is an acquired taste for non-Koreans, and I highly advise you to acquire it. We have actually tried to make this at home in Budapest with varying success. And now the star of the show arrives: a cast iron bowl of bubbling hot tofu soup - I chose seafood and beef - into which you break an egg and then wait while the egg cooks.
I looked around the packed house and a lot of the tables were filled with local Chinese people, not Koreans. So... this is what Chinese folk eat when they want to go out for something exotic and Asian. A classic aha! moment! Stuffed and satiated, we went out into the foot deep snow that had been dumped on New York the night before. Problem was, we no longer had kimchi in front of us. That was easily fixed by hopping into one of the many Han Ah Rheum supermarlets serving the local Korean community. These are huge Kimchi retailers, and you wonder how could anybody eat that much spicy fermented radish? But they can and do. A lot of non-Koreans help out - once you are hooked on fermented spicy cabbage and squid pickles, there is no turning back. The seafood at these markets is mind-boggling: fresh (as in alive) and cheap as you can find.
These sea squirts were floating around waiting to be bought and consumed by adventurous eaters: this is about as out there as human seafood consumption can get. Described as "tasting slightly of urine" even the Japanese consider eating sea squirts something of a frat-boy challenge, definately not for everyone.Outside in the parking lot there was a wood fired iron stove cooking up yellow fleshed Asian sweet potatoes, a winter delicacy in Korea and Japan. Speaking of Japan, we also hit the Mitsuwa Japanese Shopping Mall on the way into New York city for a quick fix of fresh Santoka Ramen noodle soup.
This was Aron's first experience of real, fresh ramen soup, not the instant packaged soup that has taken over the world. He like. He like very much. He also liked the accompanying bowl of rice topped with salmon roe. It is great to have a teen aged kid who says "fish eggs on rice? Yeah, Papa, I'll have some!" Last night we downed a dozen raw clams on the half shell from the Korean market. Maybe I will get him started on sea squirt sashimi before he heads back to Budapest. All this with a soy sauce hardboiled egg for $10.Like I said... we were not the first to discover that some of New York's best eating is across the Hudson river in New Jersey. Anthony Bourdain is from Leonia... just down the street from where I am typing this. He trod these same pathways in an episode of No Reservations a few years ago.