Categories
barbecue beef Korean recipes street food

Korean BBQ Tacos

Kalbi Tacos v2.0
Kalbi Taco (actual size at 1440×900 MacBook Pro resolution)

Korean BBQ tacos have been a street food phenomenon since LA’s Kogi BBQ trucks started drawing hundreds of hungry Angelenos to street corners around Southern California. Kogi’s popularity spawned a blatant knock-off, inspired others to start their own mobile food ventures, and compelled other Korean establishments to add Korean tacos to their menus, such as SF’s Seoul on Wheels, Namu, and John’s Snack and Deli, and NY’s Seoul Station). For food bloggers, creating our own version of the dish we don’t have easy access to becomes a fun little project.

Seoul on Wheels - Korean Tacos
Seoul on Wheels’ Korean tacos at Oakland’s Eat Real Fest 2009.

I set out trying to emulate the famous Kogi taco, and this led me in several directions. I focused specifically on kalbi tacos since I’ve always been a big fan of grilled Korean short ribs. In the past, I’ve relied on jarred marinades, but this time I wanted to make one from scratch. I put out a call for recipes on both Twitter and Facebook, and my friend Kevyn came through with an excellent kalbi marinade. Feel free to use your favorite kalbi recipe if you have one.

The question of corn v. flour tortillas doesn’t exist here because tacos should ALWAYS be on corn tortillas, but tortilla size is an important issue. I used 4-inch tortillas because it makes the tacos easy to pick up and eat one handed. However, the smallest tortilla that is carried by most mainstream American supermarkets is 6 inches in diameter, which I generally find too big and unwieldy for taqueria-style or street tacos. If you have Mexican market nearby, 4-inch tortillas shouldn’t be hard to find.

Figuring out the rest of the taco required a lot more research. I started at SteamyKitchen.com and Jaden’s recipe for Korean-style Kogi Tacos, which includes a BBQ sauce recipe developed for her by Kogi Chef Roy Choi. The Kogi BBQ sauce is intended to go with pork or chicken, but I think it works really well to balance out the rest of flavors in the taco. Tasty Eats at Home did her own version of Korean tacos, and I used her cilantro-red onion relish for this recipe. I like the color and flavor that the red onion provides over brown or yellow onions. The last major topping is napa cabbage/romaine slaw dressed with a chili-soy vinaigrette that I lifted from the New York Times.

I ended up making the tacos based on the recipe that follows three times, and by the third time, we pretty much had all the logistics down. I also made some other Korean taco variations a few days ago, and you can see those at the end of the post.

INGREDIENTS AND RECIPES
4-5 pounds of flanken-style short ribs
4-inch corn tortillas, 1 bag (at least 40)

Kalbi Marinade
adapted from a recipe by Kevyn Miyata
(for 4-5 lbs of short ribs)

1½ cups soy sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
¼ cup sesame oil
8-10 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
6 large green onions, roughly chopped
1 Asian or Korean Pear (½ roughly chopped, ½ sliced then mashed by hand)
Toasted sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients except meat in a bowl and mix well. In a one gallon ZipLoc bag, combine meat and marinade. Let sit for 24-36 hours, flipping over the bag every 12 hours or so to ensure the marinade is distributed evenly.

Kogi BBQ Sauce
adapted from Steamy Kitchen
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
Sriracha to taste (optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients. If desired, add Sriracha a few drops at a time to the sauce until it’s hot enough for ya. :) If you have one, put sauce in a squeeze bottle to make taco assembly more efficient.

Cilantro-Onion Relish
adapted from Tasty Eats at Home
½ red onion, minced
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch or two of salt

Add onions and rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Add rest of ingredients to onions and stir to combine.

Napa/Romaine Slaw with Chili-Soy Vinaigrette
dressing recipe from The New York Times
2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
4 cups Romaine lettuce, shredded
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 small jalapenos, seeded and minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger

Whisk together the soy, vinegar, garlic, jalapenos and ginger and set aside. Combine Napa and Romaine in a bowl until mixed well. You should have a nice green/white color contrast. For best results, divide slaw into batches and dress each batch as needed so that the greens don’t get soggy.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Grill short ribs about a minute per side on a really hot grill.
    Grilling Kalbi
  2. Separate the kalbi meat from the bones and gristle. Cut the meat it into strips lengthwise, then turn 90-degrees and dicing the meat into a “brunoise” of kalbi, if you will. :) If you like the gristle, I’d separate that from the bones and dice it up too. Set the meat aside in a bowl until there’s enough meat to start making tacos en masse.
    Kalbi "brunoise" :P
    Kalbi “brunoise”

    OPTION: After all the meat is diced up, you can either use it straight away or refry it to caramelize the meat so that each piece has a little crunch to it. This extra step is also good if you’re going to use the gristle since it lets it break down a lot more. I’ve done it both ways, and the extra caramelization is really nice.

  3. Heat a lightly oiled cast iron skillet over medium heat. Toast tortillas 30-45 seconds on each side and set aside. Working with a partner or two in an assembly line works great here so tacos can be made right after toasting.
  4. Start assembling the tacos by putting a little meat in the tortilla, then top with a bit of the cilantro-red onion relish, a little slaw, a little more cilantro-onion relish, and then drizzle a little BBQ sauce to finish. We eyeballed all of these amounts, but don’t overstuff the taco or else it will too hard to pick up and eat. You can arrange about eight tacos per plate.
    Kalbi Tacos

VARIATIONS

  • Replace the cilantro-onion relish with a pickled radish/carrot salad (known colloquially as “mu,” if anyone knows what this is actually called in Korean, I’d love to know.) This was my second-favorite version of the taco that we made.
    Bulgogi Tacos 2.0
  • To go even more Korean, I stole an idea from my friend Euge and blended up a jar of kimchi to make a Korean salsa that replaced the Kogi BBQ sauce. I’m not a big kimchi eater, but I liked this a lot. If you like kimchi, this is a great alternative.
    Bulgogi Taco

I’m not sure how many tacos this actually makes because we’ve never had to use all the meat for tacos, and it’s never a bad thing to have extra kalbi around. :) I do know that you can get at least 40 tacos out of 4-5 pounds of meat. You can easily scale this recipe down for your own needs, but I was cooking for parties and needed a lot of food.

Categories
Korean reviews Southern California street food

Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go: The Twitter Chronicles

Kogi BBQ‘s now-famous Korean taco trucks have eluded me on my last three trips home to SoCal, but this weekend, I was determined to hunt one down. Kogi has two trucks, Roja and Verde, and I met up with Roja yesterday at 9th and Hope in Downtown LA.

Let me just say upfront that I think Kogi’s food is great. We really liked everything we had, especially the Kogi Sliders and the Kogi Dog. But our first Kogi experience was a logistical disaster. It took two hours from the time we got in line to the time we got our food and left and they ran out of kalbi right before my order was fulfilled, so we missed out on their signature meat.

Since Kogi relies on their twitter account (@kogibbq) to keep their devoted followers updated about their whereabouts, it’s appropriate that this review contain my tweets about my first Kogi experience (follow me @inuyaki).

Watch how things progress by checking the timestamps of each tweet. (Timestamps from the Tweetie iPhone app.)

12:15pm Line for @kogibbq isn’t too bad right now (9th and Hope in Downtown LA) http://twitpic.com/4cnnw

kogi1.jpg

12:17pm mic_dee @inuyaki d00d! aare they quick to serve at least?
12:18pm 3ND14P3 @inuyaki O_O that line “isn’t too bad?” ?? LOL Wow. I hope it’s moving quickly
12:20pm The @kogibbq line isn’t moving yet because they haven’t started serving. Will see how fast it goes when they start.

A few minutes after this tweet they started taking orders.

12:43pm LadyDucayne @inuyaki is the kogi anticipation still going strong? What’s ur place in line? red or green?
12:52pm @LadyDucayne I think it’s roja. Line is moving slow but steady. I’m actually hungry right now. :)
12:55pm @LadyDucayne I think we’re about 25 people back.

1:18pm The @kogibbq line is moving so slow. I wasn’t hungry when i got here but now I’m starving

1:28pm The people that wait 4 @kogibbq at night are either dedicated or crazy. Don’t know if I would do this again unless I was near the front.
1:31pm LadyDucayne @inuyaki both times I have been first in line. I like kogi, but not enough to wait in line for more than ten minutes…
1:36pm 90 minutes later…Finally near the front :) http://twitpic.com/4cu8t

kogi2.jpg

1:50pm A tow truck just showed up. Minor panic. Dudes just wanted food. http://twitpic.com/4cvfi

kogi3.jpg

1:51pm hsiawen @inuyaki bastards better not have gotten cutsies

A couple minutes later we placed our order: 1 kalbi burrito, 2 kalbi tacos, 1 spicy pork taco, 1 chicken taco, 1 tofu taco, 1 order Kogi Sliders, 1 Kogi Dog, 1 brownie with Chinese spiced nuts. I ordered the Kogi Dog because they said they didn’t have enough kimchi to make the Kogi Kimchi Quesadilla. I should have known we were in trouble then.

1:59pm They just ran out of short ribs…for my order and beyond. Not very happy now, just give me my food please! @kogibbq

They also announced that they were putting a limit of one burrito or three tacos per customer. There were probably a hundred people behind me at that point.

2:03pm So @kogibbq was expecting a regular lunch crowd and weren’t prepared for all the people that showed up, which led to logistical failure

I think the people at the front of the line were buying lunch for their respective offices and depleted Kogi’s supplies right off the bat. My wife said she saw people leaving with bags of food. If this is true, it explains why the line moved so slowly and why they ran out of kalbi.

At this point, I stopped tweeting because I was focused on getting my order completed. We were supposed to be at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles at 2:30pm to donate blood platelets for my friend’s daughter, and I was getting annoyed because I didn’t want to be late. Donating platelets is by appointment only because the process takes a couple of hours, but apparently, so does Kogi.

They called me to the window to ask what other meat I wanted since they were out of short ribs. I got the spicy pork instead and changed the burrito order to a second brownie. I thought that I might as well get another dessert out of this. I told the guy expediting orders that I needed go to the doctors and that I needed to leave ASAP.

The tow truck guys were seen leaving with food five minutes after they arrived.

2:06pm @hsiawen they did get cutsies
2:08pm hsiawen @inuyaki that’s BS that means they got your ribs!!!

Actually, the guy in front of me, who almost got out of line because it was taking too long, got the last of it. He only had to substitute spicy pork for part of his order.

But were the tow truck guys the reason I didn’t get short ribs? We’ll never know. Damn you, tow truck guys!

A couple minutes later, we had half our order and were waiting on Kogi Sliders and a Kogi Dog. The guy in the party that ordered after me got his complete order, which included a Kogi Dog and Kogi Sliders, before I did, which was really annoying. I reminded the expediter that I had an appointment.

At around 2:15 were in the car and on our way to CHLA, two hours after we arrived. I snapped a couple quick pics of the food before leaving the area, and we ate our food while driving over to CHLA. The Kogi Dog was especially challenging to consume…good thing I don’t drive stick.

Kogi DogKogi Dog
Kogi SlidersKogi Sliders

We got to the CHLA blood donation center about 10 minutes late. The last three tweets are from when I was in the chair giving blood.

3:01pm While I’m a little bitter about my @kogibbq experience, the food was really good. Had to sub kalbi with spicy pork
3:05pm kogibbq @inuyaki – hopefuLLy the experience was both bitter and sweet. or at the very least, meat. MEATY…! ::drools::
3:22pm @kogibbq kogi dog was great and i liked the spicy pork. brownie with spiced nuts were nice. just sad you guys ran out of kalbi.

If you’re still reading, I commend you for sticking with this epic ordeal. :) Like I said, I think Kogi’s food is great, but I feel like the experience is incomplete because I didn’t get to try the kalbi. I’m also sure they’ll learn from these logistical snafus as they and their fanbase continues to grow. Some people might not give Kogi another shot if they endured a similar experience, but I think what Kogi is doing is worthy of a return visit. It all comes down to planning and understanding, a responsibility that belongs to both Kogi and their customers.

Personally, I won’t wait more than 30 minutes for Kogi again, so I’ll have to do my homework and be more diligent the next time I seek them out. I hope Kogi does the same so that they’re prepared to get bumrushed every time their trucks open for business.

INFORMATION
Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go
Web Site
Twitter

Categories
beef Korean reviews Southern California

Cham Sut Gol

You know you’re eating well when you’re at a Korean BBQ joint feasting on beef brisket, pork belly and some beautifully marbled prime kalbi. In fact, I think you can judge the quality of the meat by whether or not you’re tempted to start eating the raw meat right when it’s brought to the table, which almost happened at Cham Sut Gol when that platter of beautifully marbled prime kalbi arrived.


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The kalbi was great and served in its most pure state—no marinades or sauces needed—just a little butter on the grill and the marbly meat would take care of the rest. I’d never had Korean style brisket and it was excellent, and I especially liked the sauce that came with it. The sliced pork belly was also pretty amazing and was accompanied by a strong but perfect salt/pepper oil that really enhanced its inherent porkiness.

But aside from the meat, a perfectly fried mackeral was another highlight, but I didn’t eat much of it because I was busy cooking and eating the meat while my wife and some friends tore that fish apart.

Ban chan selection was good, and the service was attentive. Parking might look like an issue, but they do have valet when it’s busy, and we didn’t have any issues finding street parking.

INFORMATION
Cham Sut Gol
3700 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019 map
323.734.9292
Web site

Categories
Korean Northern California reviews

Ohgane Korean BBQ Restaurant

Do you ever get excited when you look at raw beef? Does the anticipation build up inside of you when you think about how good it’s going to taste after it’s grilled perfectly and you take your first bite? That’s exactly how I felt when the tray of kalbi arrived at our table at Ohgane Korean BBQ Restaurant in Oakland. And the feelings only grew as the server trimmed the meat from the bone, leaving behind beautiful thick ribbons of marbled marinated rib meat that we couldn’t wait to throw on the grill.


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I’m more accustomed to the cross-cut, LA style of kalbi, so Ohgane’s presentation was a change of pace for me and it’s a much more satisfying way to enjoy kalbi. I think you get much larger pieces of meat, and if you like to eat the gristle off the bones, you can throw those on the grill, too, and gnaw on them after all the meat is gone.

I’m perfectly content ordering just the kalbi here, but there’s a lot of other good meat choices on the menu, including daeji bulgogi (spicy marinated pork), special BBQ sam gyup sal gu e (pork belly), Juk suck seng go gi dol pan gu e (beef cubes cooked on a hot stone).

I got my first taste of soon dae (blood sausage with vermicelli noodle) at Ohgane, and it’s become a regular order when we can find it. The pajun (seafood pancake) is one of the best I’ve had because there’s just the right ratio of batter and filling. Banchan selection is is pretty extensive, too.

In general, the quality of the meat at Ohgane is good, but it really pales in comparison to what you can get down in L.A.’s Koreatown. My Korean friends tend to lament the lack of really good Korean food up in the SF Bay Area, and I should really check out more of the spots in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara since the South Bay seems to reign for good Korean. In the East Bay, Ohgane is definitely one of the shining stars.

INFORMATION
Ohgane Korean BBQ Restaurant
3915 Broadway
Oakland, California 94611 map
510.594.8300
Web site
Ohgane Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon