Yung’s Tteokbokki features
springy stir-fried rice cake noodles


Yung’s Tteokbokki features springy stir-fried rice cake noodles

By Paula Johnson

Korean Cuisine – The Next Wave The forward to one of the hottest cookbooks last year, and a New York Times bestseller, is about Korean cuisine. It’s called “Koreatown: A Cookbook” by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard. Andrew Zimmer, TV personality and chef, writes about it in the book’s forward. He says, “Our interest in Asian cuisine has exploded. Americans cannot get enough of it. This is why it’s so frustrating for me to see that one of my all time favorite cuisines – Korean – has yet to be swept up in that bandwagon. And I’m still trying to figure out why this is the case.” Perhaps the success of “Koreatown: A Cookbook” will contribute to a surge in popularity of what is definitely one of my favorite cuisines. My first taste came from a refrigerated jar of kimchi one of my college roommates introduced me to, and I was hooked. The crunch, the vinegary fermented tang, and that crazy fire engine red chili paste, so pungent and incendiary, what’s not to love?

I was sure there’d be kimchi in my future when I visited Yung’s Cafe in Fairborn. Located near Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Yung’s does a healthy lunch business, and was beginning to fill up for dinner on a recent Tuesday evening when I met with a Korean friend Dr. Anna to dine. Yung’s space, formerly a Taco Bell then another Korean restaurant, is small and brightly lit with ample parking, The menu features traditional soups, stew, noodle dishes, and barbecue. [The menu also lists alcohol, but we overheard a server telling another table that Yung’s no longer has a liquor license]. While you won’t be able to sample Korean beers or wine, you can try traditional barley tea, a departure from Japanese or Chinese tea, almost reminiscent of coffee.

Dr. Anna and I perused the menu as she pointed out favorites from her childhood – homey dishes her mother would make. She talked about Mandu ($3.50), a dumpling appetizer I ordered. “At home when we make these, it’s like a family assembly line with one person laying out the dough circles, another person filling them, and someone else folding and pinching them shut”. Yung’s mandu can be steamed or fried, and they come with a soy dipping sauce. Ours were fried and delicious.

We also began with Tteokbokki ($8.00), the other of two appetizers offered. These stir fried rice cake noodles were a dish I had never tried before, but Dr. Anna knew it well. The rice cakes are actually rice cake noodles, thick and tubular, almost gummy and chewy in a good way. It’s not a familiar texture to the American palate, nor is the texture of the fish cake served with the noodles. The springy and slightly rubbery mouth feel comes from combining ground fish with binder and spices, boiling or steaming, then slicing.

Getting Stewed – If there’s on dish to begin your Korean food journey with, Kimchi-jjigae ($12.99) should probably be it. There’s nothing to soothe and satisfy like leaning over this bubbling pot of homey stew, feeling the steam on your face and inhaling the aromas. Indeed Yung’s Kimchi-jiggae did arrive in a small bubbling black cauldron, with a bowl of while rice, and banchan, the parade of small side dish condiments that is always present at every Korean meal. Pickled cucumbers, bean sprouts with sesame, kimchi, sliced fish cake, and something almost akin to coleslaw was festively arrayed to compliment the main dish. So what makes kimchi-jiggae a sort of holy grail dish of Korean cooking? It would be the holy trinity of flavor ingredients combined in the dish, those being doenjang, a thick fermented bean paste made of soybean and brine, gochugaru, a spicy, smoky, coarsely ground red pepper with a texture between flakes and powder, and gochujang, a spicy fermented hot pepper paste that’s used in nearly everything Korean.

As Deuki Hong points out, “Everybody has gone nuts for sriracha, but all we’ve gotta say here is sriracha had better watch its back for gochujang.” Gochujang can be described as slightly sweet with deep, complex flavor, and “hotter than the peppers grown at Satan’s CSA,” according to Hong. I watched Dr. Anna dose up her bowl of white rice with the squeeze bottle our server brought over with wonder. No stranger to hot sauce, this one.

Just What The Doctor Ordered – Another dish to sample is the soup I ordered, Yukgaejang ($14.99), a spicy beef and leek soup. What I loved most about this soup was the variety of textures of the vegetables, especially the fiddleheads. Meat is minimal in this particular soup, taking a back seat to thin slippery, transparent noodles and the savory tang of flame red broth fired by, you guessed it, gochujang. I commented that the broth had to be good for your health, and I had this confirmed by the good doctor. “Hospitals in the Korean neighborhood in New York have begun to offer traditional Korean soup to their patients, particularly new mothers, in response to families bringing it from home to their loved ones,” she told me. Many cultures regard food as medicine. [We in the US are lagging on this one sadly.] As I am concerned for my health, I have made it part of my self-care regimen to return to Yung’s Cafe for further treatment.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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