Is it a story about how I came to love Korean food or my relationship with fried chicken?
Let's start with the fried chicken part because up until last weekend, I can't say that I would ever drive out of my way for it.
When my husband & I bought our house in Skyway, we celebrated our first night amongst the unpacked boxes with a bottle of good pink champagne & a bucket of Ezell's chicken, which was now available to us right around the corner. It seemed the perfect metaphor for our new life.
Both were small luxuries after the many tight months of scrimping & saving depression era-style, trying to spend the smallest amount of money possible by eating solely from what we already had in our freezer & pantry or the broken bags of paella rice or expired jars of who-knows-what I came home with from Spanish Table, just so we could keep expanding our savings & qualify for a loan on a place of our own. We did it, & I will never forget the taste of that night.
As for Korean food, it ties in with a story of the heart as well. For four years I dated a Korean-Mexican musician & his family (that's the way it works), & while our cards didn't play out, I spent many an evening over a table filled with the splendors of banchan, learning the in's & out's of what constitutes great kimchee, bibimbap, and glistening plates of chop chae. My biggest regret is that I was a vegetarian at the time, so while my clothes were permeated with the tempting smell of kalbi & bulgolgi frying up on the stove, I never actually partook in these finger-licking forays until a ways after we split up...
So fast-forward to the present me, who is down with trying almost anything (food-wise) at least once, & a lunch date with one of my favorite foodie friends, Kye. We had set aside a Thursday afternoon to walk around Greenlake & grab a bite to eat before my business class, & both of us had been going through a preliminary list of places we might like to hit afterward. What would it be... Ramen? Tortas? Vietnamese Bun? But as we came round the bend, the latter choices didn't seem to jive with the daily fickleness of my appetite, but the gray skies looming overhead presented a culinary craving knowing we were so close to Shoreline.
"Would you be up for Korean?" I asked hesitantly. (I never like to make people play tour-guide of their native cuisines unless they volunteer for the job.) The suggestion made Kye's face light up in an instant. "You like Korean food?!" she beamed, & so we raced for our cars with keys in hand, jumped onto 99, & hungrily met up in the parking lot of Hae-Nam Kalbi & Calamari.
Even though we had just missed the lunch menu cut-off, Kye soon had the staff eating out of her hand--barley tea flowed & a generous spread of banchan bowls soon overwhelmed our grill table. At this point, you might be asking, "What about the frickin' Korean fried chicken???"
Okay, I'll get to that, but how about a whelk noodle salad that I learned had Nancy Leson of the Seattle Times a-cooing? And true to the name of the restaurant, our plate of kalbi (marinated sweet & savory short ribs) excelled, negating every caloric-burned step we had taken the hour before. Thank goodness talking about food doesn't add to the waist-line, or we really would have been in trouble!
And so one of my favorite kind of meals commenced--my expert guide pointed to her favorites & I gladly ate up whatever appeared before me. I eventually showed up at the Community Capitol Development Center, very late, & very much smelling like a gargantuan bulb of garlic as I later realized, setting off perfumed bursts of air amongst my more salient comments in class.
One week later, we set out on another "elastic-pant" date (this time with our husbands & blogger friends Dawn & Eric, in tow) to meet at Pal-Do World, the Uwajimiya of Korean food, bearing further north on the compass in Lynnwood. Pal-Do World is the kind of place I can wander from aisle-to-aisle endlessly in a slow motion dream sequence, ogling everything from the exotic crustaceans frozen in time, rainbows of sliced sashimi in the fish case, marbled meats that want to leap into your frying pan, & fiery pepper pastes (oh, I'm a sucker for condiments) up the yin yang. I tried to focus on the fact that we were here first for lunch, not shopping, and Ken had to use persuasive stall tactics to tear me away from stocking up on irresistible additions to our ever-growing ethnic pantry.
Eric & Dawn were running a little late, so Kye took us on over to the Pal-Do food court, where Chicky Pub lives in all its "My Little Pony" color-scheme glory, to get our order underway. "They take a while to make it," our leader explained, & after reading the New York Times article on Korean fried chicken, I now know why. The whole secret behind the technique is double-dipping--the chicken is fried not once, but twice for 10 minutes with a resting period in between which insures a lighter crisper crust than the American version. I mean can you imagine KFC devoting twenty-something minutes lovingly cooking your bucket of chicken? I don't think so. And while Chicky Pub does not in fact seem to serve beer, you can order a lunch-time latte!
We decided to sit next door at the Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant (the owners are connected so they're fine with sharing customers) so we could sample from their menu as well. The place was packed with families, & the six of us crushed in together at a couple of small tables in the back. I will warn you that all of Pal-Do World is about as warm as a meat locker, with the restaurant being of a marginally higher temperature, so wear your leg warmers!
Another tip for creating body heat is to order one of Cho Dang's soft tofu soups--the beefy chili-rich broth is wonderful spooned over rice amongst intermittent bites ofbanchan to cleanse the palate. We also went for a family-sized squid & vegetable stir fry & more kalbi--both were solid dishes, although not nearly notable as the soothing silkiness of their soondubu.
And while we played Chinese Checkers with all our dishes, Kye dashed through the aisles to pick up a special treat--Korean blood sausage--which is steamed, then sliced on-site, & comes with a bag of spiced salt for dipping. Wow. I can't say I ever would have imagined eating blood sausage with chopsticks! Soondae is much milder, less fatty, & I daresay almost fluffy as it contains a large proportion of glassy sweet potato noodles. Kye loves these meaty morsels so much that she got a second order to go for snacking on later... Well, I guess they kind of look like brownies in this shot, but we still had to make room for dessert.
How about finishing things off with some fish waffles? No silly, they're not waffles filled with fish, but with sweet bean paste. Each little swimmer is made to order, so we headed back over to the frozen foods to watch the archaic waffle press go to work. My picture did not turn out so well, so I refer you to the Wright's blog as perhaps my shivering made the shot a bit blurry. And while I grabbed my camera to capture our hot batch of bungeoppang, five hungry hands beat me to the punch!
But the star of the show for me was of course, the transformative chicken. I loved every last bit of the sticky sweet gingery sauce & found myself eating leftovers cold out of the ice box. What's happened to me?
Each piece was well-glazed but not soggy in the least, the chicken tender and perfectly cooked, & I'm already thinking of excuses to go back to Lynnwood of all places and try out the even spicier version. The fact is that when split the bill for all this ridiculously good food, each couple chipped in $15. That's right, $7.50 a person. And that is one winning argument as to why you should spend a Sunday afternoon in a beer-less pub in a giant freezer in a strip mall. I'll be the gal in the corner licking her fingers with a big sloppy grin...
Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant
17424 Highway 99
Lynnwood, WA 98037