Sunday, May 30, 2010

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown - Garlic Warfare in Koreatown

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you think about it, garlic is probably the one ingredient that is prevalent in almost every culture's food. Revered for its healing and medicinal qualities, this member of the onion family, along with leeks, shallots and chives, was used once as currency, for healing wounds, ingested for spiritual reasons and for warding pale, creepy people with fangs. But for those that enjoy food, we all know that garlic is a major component in cooking and repelling a hot date during dinner. Whether its sauteed or even eaten raw, garlic can take a dish to higher levels. But to what level specifically?

I don't know, but I have a feeling the Koreans may have an answer. Why Korea? Over Spain, Italy and America, Koreans consume more garlic per capita than anyone else. Just how much? Americans eat an average of 2.5 lbs. of garlic a year... Koreans – 22 lbs. a year. 22 lbs. of garlic in a bag can knock you out if it was swung at you with enough force. I've always known that Koreans use copious amounts of garlic, along with sesame oil and red chilis, but this as you will learn very soon, is a complete understatement. For many years already, garlic warfare is happening in Koreatown. And you probably didn't know that it was happening at a place on Wilshire and Harvard.

I first came to Myung Dong Kyoja when I was searching for one of my favorite korean dishes, kal gook soo. Kal gook soo literally means "knife-cut noodles" and it is basically a soup noodle dish with various toppings and broth flavorings. The most popular being chicken noodle soup (dahk kal gook soo) and anchovy-flavored noodle soup (myeol chi kal gook soo) offered at Koreatown places like Ma Dang Gook Soo and Olympic Noodle. Unlike a proper bowl of pho or Chinese beef noodle soup, this dish is much more simple, comforting and homey. The soup at first may seem light in flavor, but the simple addition of some scallion/chili/soy sauce relish and chili powder and you're good to go.

When you first walk in here, almost instantly, you will be hit with an invisible fist of garlic. It is at the entrance of the door that you have the option of saving yourself from sweating out garlic for the rest of the day, or taking your palate on a test drive through Garlicville. Go for the latter if you're true garlic-head.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

And once you've ordered your food, the server comes out with a small portion of kimchi as seen above. You're probably wondering why so little is given, but it's more than you'll need. I can promise you that every piece of cabbage packs a decent amount of minced garlic. At first bite, you'll know what I'm talking about. I think I ate about three pieces before my tongue started to sting a little from the fresh, fieriness of the minced garlic cloves. So fiery that when you drink some water to abate the pleasurable pain, you can feel a sort of numbness in the tongue. And I love it. It's almost like you're eating minced garlic with a side of red chili and cabbage.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

Look at that, it is a crater of garlic. Just standing over this holding pot, I was hit with major garlic fumes. Insane!

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you can handle the hazing on the tongue, they'd be more than glad to serve you with another 1-2 punch. The servers come by with their kimchi pitcher and tongs. Intense!

In addition to the garlic freak show, there are a few things that are worth eating at MDKJ. The steamed dumplings (goon man doo) at first appear to be Korean cousins of the widely-adored Chinese xiao long bao, soupy pork dumplings. But they are nowhere nearly as juicy as they are. The dumplings themselves are plump due to a heavy vegetable to meat ratio. They are steamed in a plastic basket and are indeed pretty decent. But I prefer the well-balance boiled dumplings found at places like Dumpling 10053, Dean Sin World and Lu Noodle House. Anyway, a simple mixture of a Korean condiment and vinegar and you're good to go.

There's also MDKJ's version of kal gook soo, which tastes even better once you add the Korean flavoring condiment and maybe a dash of vinegar. The thing I've noticed with Korean soup noodles is that they cook the noodles a little too long for my taste. I enjoy a toothsome, notable al-dente-ness in every bite. So I highly recommend ordering your noodles a bit harder. Problem is if you're non-Korean like me, communicating that is a bit difficult.

Myung Dong Kyoja

But thanks to my trusty Translator app for my iPhone, I can get from point A to B. I always get a kick out of seeing their reaction because this Translator app is so literal, but they get the idea. I said: "Hello. I like my noodles chewy. Not soft. Thank you. Also your kimchi is very strong in garlic taste. Intense! But I love it."

Myung Dong Kyoja

If the garlic kimchi isn't holding up to your garlic expectations, you need to use this relish consisting of soy sauce, minced garlic, scallions and a type of mild korean pepper that has a taste similar to bell peppers and slight spice kick from shishito peppers. I love this sauce. Add 2-3 big scoops of this sauce into your kal gook soo soup noodles and you're set. Like I said before, the soup can be a little too plain without any sauce, so this is what is used to flavor your dish. I like my soup noodles with a touch of vinegar to cut through that muddy garlic tone.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja Kal Gook Soo
The version served here is much different than what you're probably used to. Soup noodles are served in a slightly starchy broth from the noodle runoff. It's topped with a simple stir fry of ground meat, zuccini, carrots, onions and 3-4 mini dumplings that I really enjoy. If you like the mini dumplings, you can order them straight up with soup and nothing else. Win.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja

This is what I call a happy meal. The surprise gift is a fiery mouth of garlic.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

I wasn't kidding when I said there is garlic warfare happening in Koreatown. They've even provided you with a fancy gargling machine in the restroom, the Garlic Kimchi-a-tor 5000. I took a shot of the gargling liquid and it did nothing for me but create this minty garlic taste that seemed to never go away. Don't say I didn't warn you about the garlic. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Myung Dong Kyoja
3630 Wilshire Blvd. (c/o Harvard)
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 385-7789


Food GPS said...

Using the translator is funny, but a great idea. I recently ate at the branch of Myung Dong in Anaheim, liked the noodles and felt stupid for not knowing about the Koreatown location. They had some very good kimchi, pungent for sure. Good write-up.

weezermonkey said...

I am dying at your translator.

Mr. Monkey is a true garlic-head. We will have to come here with a Korean friend for sure.

Or at least armed with your photo printed out.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

Lovely. I had no idea, and my Garlic Fiends will love you for introducing them and me to this place. :)

It looks intense and delicious. :) Thanks for the review.

e d b m said...

Josh, the kimchi is a pleasure/pain thing. it's pungent yet i can't stop eating it.

GarlicMonkey, definitely order the noodles al-dente. That's my only thing - noodles are too soft.

ExileK, let me know what you think.

Sue said...

Cool~~ It's a nice surprise to see you blogged about one of my fave Ktown eateries :D (I want to visit all the places in your other posts but most are not w/in my student budget, haha.) I love Myung Dong's dumplings, I think they're pretty succulent and juicy but I gotta try those Chinese xiao long bao places you listed if they're even better! p.s. I guess Myung Dong's menu says goon mandoo(?) but that actually means fried dumplings. Steamed dumplings are called 'jin mandoo' ^^

e d b m said...

Sue, thanks for stopping by. I eat all kinds of food. As long as it's good, I'm in. MDKJ's steamed dumplings are definitely tasty and flavorful, but I'm used to Chinese style which has less filling. But I do love the mini dumplings tossed in the kalgooksoo. I sometimes order the dumplings in soup only. Yes, you're right, I meant "jin mandoo" not "goon mandoo"!

Evelina said...

I love love LOVE garlic, so at the sight of your image on my google reader, I knew I had to go to where ever you where talking about (the power of an image!).

Definitely hitting this place up. Noodles look delicious and just from reading your description and looking at your pictures, I can already taste the garlic in the kimchi.

Thanks for the review!

Eastside Food Bites said...

Great post. I love garlic, and I can't wait to try this place. I want to dive into that kim chi pot and eat my way out!

e d b m said...

Hi Evelina/EFB, please do check back in. I'd love to hear people's reactions to the intense garlic kimchi ha. One of my friends just went and agreed that the gargle machine is completely useless... basically wall fodder for the bathroom.

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maiteeny said...

Hi there, I used to visit your blog every so often when I lived in LA. I now live in Milwaukee and miss korean food like crazy. I used to work a few blocks away from MDKJ and daydream about it every so often here in the land of cheese, brats, and beer. Excellent post and amazing photos ... god I miss the food of LA!!

Mark Matsuura said...

I'm so there!

Pizza Shop said...

Really amazing. Very nice food.

Chris said...

i've been eating at this restaurant for a few years now and I was hooked upon first bite. I prefer the white kimchee but that sauce - I swear they put crack in it! So good. I tried both Olympic Noodle and Ma Dang Gook Soo but I still prefer this place by a mile.

Elizabeth said...

Looking wonderful and delicious foods.

Anonymous said...

late to this party, but happy to have arrived. thanks for the tip today!

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