So, way back when I was in school, I met this dude - let’s call him “Andy” – in one of my classes. Andy and I immediately fell in friend-love with each other, and for awhile, had to spend every waking hour together. We loved the same tv shows and books, the same crappy pop music and action flicks, had the same quirky (disturbing) sense of humor. We even shared an unwavering, borderline obsessive love/lust of WWE professional wrestler and actor Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock.” For two or three months, we could not get enough of each other. As time went on, however, we learned the truth of the adage “too much of a good thing.” Eventually, we started spending time apart, and after I graduated, we lost touch. But every now and again, I’ll reconnect with him online, and all those happy feelings rush back.
Korean food is my culinary Andy. When I first started working in Koreatown, I became a Korean food-eating machine, making my way methodically through the countless eateries surrounding my office, trying my hand at recreating the food at home. After awhile, though, I burned myself out on it, and, with the exception of a couple of KBBQ outings, have not sought it out. But a couple of weekends ago, Mark and I decided to reconnect with my old friend for lunch at the much-lauded Mapo Kkak Du Gi.
Like so many of the best ethnic restaurants in this city, Mapo is snuggled in an almost disconcertingly run-down shopping plaza on the corner of 6th and Normandie. But we don’t let looks deter us. If the consistent praise of fellow food bloggers isn’t enough, the uniformly Korean customers filling the restaurant confirms that we’ve made a good choice.
We find ourselves a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of offerings in this tiny restaurant. The names of dishes aren’t particularly helpful in deciding what to eat, but the blown up photos of each dish plastered on the wall help.
Moments after putting our order in, the fun starts. Mapo has some of the best banchan I’ve tasted, and maybe the largest variety as well. Highlights? The spicy pickled daikon (bottom right), pungent, sweet and crisp, and strangely addictive translucent cubes of dotorimuk, or acorn jelly (bottom left) topped with a sweet, salty sauce.
By the time the food we actually ordered hits the table, we’re well on our way to being stuffed. I still find room for one of my favorite Korean dishes, a soft tofu soup. It comes to our table still bubbling, and I find it hard to wait to dig into the deliciously salty, slightly spicy broth and morsels of seafood and silky tofu.
The rice mixed with julienned vegetables and ground beef is a lighter touch. While not particularly exciting, it is tasty, healthy, and more appropriate to the warm, almost-summer day than the sweat-inducing soup…
…of which we have another round. The spicy beef and leek soup is another deeply satisfying, home-style bowl of goodness. The neon orange, slightly oily broth is chock-full of beefy flavor, and tastes twice as good with a spoonful of purple rice (pictured at the top).
Korean food, my old friend, you are just as good as I remember. I've missed you, and I'm indebted to Mapo for bringing you back into my life in such a great way.