Eating Korean without Traveling to Asia

My wife and I decided we’d like to experience Korea without flying nearly ½ day to actually visit. An Asian friend (she happens to be Chinese) clued us into a fantastic “Little Korea” area of Dallas that is not well known but certainly will be soon. You can be one of the first non-Asians to discover it.

Little Korea is fascinating. There you will find many Korean bar-b-que restaurants. We decided to head for one of the newest, Gen, a concept out of California whose first store opened in this area in October after a long opening delay. The wait was worth it. If there is a Little Korea in your city, I’m sure it’s very similar.

There must be dozens of Korean restaurants in our Little Korea. The Korean bar-b-que is generally an all-you-can-eat affair, drinks extra. In the same neighborhood, you will find a Japanese dollar store and an Asian grocer. Inside, the grocery is divided into many sections, many of which specialize in a particular Asian cuisine. The Vietnamese restaurant looked great. Next to the grocer is a Pak-Indo restaurant which attracted many covered women eating what I am told is excellent Pak-Indo food. Also in this area is a sushi restaurant where a model train continuously delivers sushi to the diners. You take what you want and pay at the end. The cashier can tell what you ate by the size and shape of the empty plate.

Since the Korean bar-b-que does not usually include dessert on the menu, a number of after-dinner options exist in the area. Most popular seemed to be 85° C. A long line waited to get in. Once inside, you get a tray and tongs and help yourself to what you want from the covered racks of pastries. Then you head to the cashier line. But first, get a meal or you’ll want to eat everything in sight.

We arrived at Gen early, around 5:15, on a Saturday, which turned out to be a good idea. By 6:30 when we finished eating, there was an hour long wait! You are seated at a table with a grill in the middle. The table is pre-set with various pickled vegetable dishes each in its own small container—you can get more of anything—and a salad. Chopsticks, tongs, and a scissor are provided. You can get a fork upon request. No knives. The scissor is used to cut whatever you’re cooking into bite-size pieces.

You get a choice among 36 items on the menu, including various beefs, chicken, fish, pork, vegetable and noodle items. Order as much as  you want, and as often as you want. We tried 12 items and couldn’t eat anything more. When we were greeted, we told the attendant that it was our first time there. Because the restaurant wasn’t busy and the greeter was the manager, after he took us to our table he stayed with us telling us about the restaurant, his family, and how to properly cook the food, which he did for us! Don’t expect this when you go, but if it happens you’re in luck. On the way out his boss jokingly said, “You had the best waiter tonight.” And he was right. Along with the manager-cook, several Asian teens hovered to fill our drinks and change out the grill periodically. Each dish cooks quickly on the hot grill, and part of the enjoyment is the disco atmosphere with hip-hop music in the background.

The meats are marinated before they come to the table, so the grill develops a black tar of burnt marinade. That is why the grill is constantly changed. In the kitchen a special machine cleans these very dirty grills. I wish I had one at home!

Steak lover? Some customers order only the prime steak, one of the 36 items offered.

Our manager-cook hadn’t been to Korea since he was a child, but he explained that in Korea this type of dining is reserved for special occasions as they don’t usually eat so much meat. Also, he said, the taste is a bit blander as Koreans prefer it that way. In any event, you’re certain to enjoy the experience. Go.

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