Korean Restaurants in Hawaii
This was my month to get beyond the Korean plate lunch. Spicy chicken gizzards, anyone?
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“I know it’s lunch, but we need soju with this,” said Pak. An older lady came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, asked me for $6 and fetched us a small green bottle of soju from one of the nearby stores. “In Korea, that bottle would cost a dollar,” said Pak.
Soju is a relative of Japanese sochu, distilled from rice or barley or what have you. Essentially, it’s ethanol diluted with water.
It went so well with the three-fat pork, with everything on the table, really, that it suddenly seemed a revelation, perhaps more of a revelation each time we drained one of the little glasses you drink it from.
The table was full of panchan, the side dishes like bachelor kimchee and simmered mustard cabbage with plenty of kochukaru, red pepper powder. The calmest thing was the mul naengruyon, a light, cold soup with buckwheat noodles, hardboiled egg and cucumber, the noodles like soba but thinner, soft yet enjoyable to the bite, the whole package refreshing on a warm day in a gardenlike setting in the middle of a large parking lot, with dumpsters just on the other side of the flowered border.
The restaurant’s called Orine Sarangchae. Once you find the parking lot off Liona Street, you can’t miss it, especially at night, because the tree in the center is lit with twinkle lights.
Choon Chun Chicken B.B.Q.
1269 S. King St., 593-4499
Daily 3:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. (or 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., depending on who you ask) // Limited parking // Major credit cards
Once was not enough. “I’ll take you to the closest thing we have in Honolulu to a neighborhood restaurant in Korea,” said Pak. He e-mailed me to meet him, and his wife, Merle, at Chuncheon Tak Kalbi, at King and Birch.
When I arrived, the sign said Choon Chun Chicken B.B.Q. Same, same, apparently.
In the city of Chuncheon, there are streets lined with places selling only fried chicken, pickled daikon and beer. What else would we order? To get the thoroughly Korean experience, we got an order of spicy chicken gizzards as well.
The gizzards arrived soaked in a kochujang sauce, under a confetti of onion, daikon and bell pepper, seriously tasty, but formidable to chew. A gizzard is the chicken’s thick, muscular second stomach, handy for crushing food inside the chicken, but tiring to eat as a human.
The fried chicken, however, was a revelation. “It’s American food made Korean,” said Pak. Like the British taking rock‘n’roll and sending it back with Lennon, McCartney, Clapton and Keith Richards, the Koreans have taken our fried chicken and made it even better.