Korean Restaurants in Hawaii
This was my month to get beyond the Korean plate lunch. Spicy chicken gizzards, anyone?
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However, the Korean food everyone eats here has been domesticated, into a Hawaii-style plate lunch. Two scoops rice, with three or four sides, some of which are various kimchees and namul (Korean prepared vegetables), but others are Hawaii things like mac salad and defrosted frozen corn. Add mandoo, maybe barbecue chicken and, of course, kalbi.
Beef kalbi is a special-occasion food in Korea. But in Hawaii, grilled, thin-cut shortribs have become synonymous with Korean food.
Of course, there’s a wider world of Korean food, right at our doorstep. Forget kalbi. When was the last time you had hangover soup?
905 Keeaumoku St., 955-0646
Daily 10 a.m. to midnight // Free and valet parking // Major credit cards
Gary Pak introduced me to hangover soup. Due to deficiencies in my education, I can’t read Korean characters, and even the transliterations into English letters are hard to get my mind around. When Pak started calling haejangkuk “hangover soup,” suddenly the names of Korean foods became as vivid as the flavors.
In case you don’t recognize his name, Pak’s published four books. He’s a UH English professor, an adjunct prof of Korean Studies, and he’s made dozens of trips to Korea to teach at universities there.
When I met him in the ’80s, he was driving a cab. He's still the same guy, even though Wikipedia calls him “one of the most important Asian Hawaiian writers.”
“I didn’t write that,” he says. “It’s embarrassing for a local guy to have something like that out there.”
Pak got me to meet him in a cordoned-off chunk of asphalt parking lot off Keeaumoku Street, in a restaurant that doesn’t have one word of English on its sign. He immediately ordered hangover soup.
It was one of the few times I felt unhappy not to have a hangover, because hangover soup may well have cured it—it’s a beef broth nearly milky with marrow and miso, richly flavored but not spicy, crammed with onion, celery and some deep-green Asian cabbage.
A website written in English by Hangkuk University students says, “By eating a bowl of haejangkuk, you can get all the nutritions you need for one meal.” Right.
“My father sometimes used to come home at 2 in the morning from drinking,” recalls Pak. “He’d wake up my mother: Haejang, haejang. She’d make this soup for him. He’d eat it before he went to sleep and get to work on time the next day.”
“You know how you know you’ve never done that?” said my wife later, when I told her the story. “You’re still married.”
Apparently Pak didn’t think the hangover soup was all the nutritions we needed for one meal, because he also ordered the house specialty, samgyepsal, “three-fat pork,” thin strips of pork belly with its three streaks of fat, like bacon. The waitress arrayed pieces of pork on a round metal grill she’d brought to the table. When grilled, we wrapped them in perilla leaves (called sesame leaves in Korea, but actually a relative of Japanese shiso) and we ate them with miso, chili paste and considerable pleasure.