Grandma Kim’s Korean BBQ

My BFF Maya and her husband Shaun arrived to Los Angeles on Sunday from Portland! Next Saturday is Kevin and my wedding and they arrived a week early to relax in the California sun. This was also their chance to catch up with their old friends in LA.

It was Mother’s Day and we knew that many restaurants would be packed to celebrate the special holiday, so we went to the un-sexiest place of all – Korean BBQ. We knew that it wouldn’t be too busy and we were right. When we arrived at Grandma Kim’s, Maya and my old lunch joint in Canoga Park, the place was virtually empty! Score!

We frequented this join when we worked together in West Hills many, many years ago.  We would sneak out for lunch and come back with our clothes saturated in garlic funk … but we didn’t care.  There is nothing special about this mom-and-pop joint, but we always found refuge in this little place.

Our favorite: Tofu hot pot, especially delicious on a sizzling hot summer day!

Afterward, Shaun went back to the hotel and Maya and I headed to Encino for some afternoon snack. We went to Coral Tree Café. We were in the mood for hot tea or coffee but it was so hot outside that we settled for mango smoothies, and Godiva chocolate cake.

The drink was good but it tasted like citrusy soap from Lush!

This was a slice of heaven on a plate!

Spending time with Maya made me realize how much I’ve missed her. Six more days until the big day!

Asian Food Superstar: Bibimbap

My fiancé and I went to see the latest Harold and Kumar movie over the weekend. It’s called A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas … and it was 90 minutes of pure awesomeness.

We had to pay extra $4 to watch it 3D but it was well worth our money (and this was my very first 3D experience). It took me a while to watch the first Harold and Kumar movie but once I finally got around watching it, I became an instant fan.

I love the fact that these two actors who portray potheads in the movie are super smart in real life. In the entertainment world where leading male Asian roles are very scarce, it’s refreshing to see, not one, but two fine Asian American actors in such naughty roles that celebrate Asian stereotypes in such a politically-incorrect way.

To celebrate the shining Asian stars, here’s my Bibimbap I had for dinner. 🙂 (I know … that was a stretch.)

This is a super “lazy” version of the Korean rice dish. All I did was stir fried julienned zucchini, carrot and shiitake mushrooms and a handful of bean sprouts separately in a medium pan with sesame oil until they’re tender, piled them on top of steamed white rice, and enjoyed with a dollop of Ssamjang and Sriracha.

The traditional version has spinach, fried eggs, meat, and other delicious things on top to make this delicious rice bowl taste even better!

This is one of my favorite Korean dishes and I am so happy that it’s so easy to make, which makes it perfect for the midnight munchies.

Food Truck Experience at Home: Korean BBQ Taco

I was thinking about baby names the other day. No, I’m not pregnant or anything (wedding first), but I was just imagining what kind of name I would give my future bundle of joy, should I be so blessed to have him / her one day … and I remembered how much I love the name “Koji” for a boy. It’s a very typical Japanese boy’s name but I love its simplicity. It’s pronounced “Koh-Jee.” It even sounds a little like food, like “congee.”

Then I realized that it is a food name, as in Kogi taco truck. I still don’t know if “Kogi” is pronounced “Koh-jee” or “Ko-ghee” but it’s way too close. Talk about my childhood dream being crushed. I don’t think I have the guts to subject my future baby to be picked on in school because he sounds like a galbi wrapped in tortilla sold in a back of the roach coach.

Name or no name, the concept of mixing delicious Korean BBQ and giving it the Mexican street-food feel is just genius. I’ve only had its famous taco once when it first lit the fire on America’s food truck fascination but it’s definitely something that I can get used to. Good thing these tacos are really easy to make at home and you don’t have to chase the truck around town for some good eats.

Korean Beef Marinade
For about 8 – 10 ounces of beef, enough for about 4 tacos

(This was inspired by the recipe from with slight alteration. I only marinaded a small amount of meat so I reduced the amount slightly.)

3 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon Agave nectar (I used agave instead of white sugar)
2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 green onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, grated
1 ginger block, grated
1 tablespoon water

Let the beef marinade for at least an hour. I let it marinade overnight and popped it in the freezer.  Just make sure that you don’t marinade it for too long, as it gets too salty.

Korean Green Onion and Cabbage Salad

I got inspired to make this salad when I found this wonderful blog, Korean Cuisine. I learned that the Korean Onion Salad is called Pa Moochim. I added some shredded cabbage to add a bit more crunch. This makes enough for 4 tacos, but this salad is so delicious, you might want to make more!

(A quick note: I purchased the box of Gochujan, a Korean fermented bean paste, but since I can’t read Korean, this may be a different type of fermented bean paste … I don’t know. When you go to a Korean supermarket, there is an aisle full of the condiments. Nonetheless, the paste is versatile and an absolute essential for many Korean cuisines.  Update:  I found out that this paste is called Ssamjang, a combination of Gochujan, Doenjan, sesame oil, garlic, onion, and green onion.)

1 bunch green onion, finely sliced
¼ whole cabbage, finely sliced
3 tablespoon sesame oil
5 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon  Gochujang Ssamjang
Cayenne Pepper (to taste)

Mix everything in a bowl and let it sit in a refrigerator for about 15 minutes before serving.

Assembling the Taco

Warm the tortillas on a grill (I like corn tortilla for this). In the meantime, cook the marinaded beef in a pan with olive oil. When cooked, pile the beef on the tortilla. Top the taco with the green onion and cabbage salad. I put some kimchee and Sriracha hot sauce for extra heat.  This recipe makes about 4 tacos.

Money-Saving Meal: Chapchae

I watched the show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC for the first time a few weeks ago … and may I say … #$%*@#$? eekThe show documents people who clip coupons and go to any lengths to save money on groceries and other necessities. And I mean any lengths – from dumpster diving to stealing coupons from a driveway of foreclosed houses in the neighborhood. This is not a hobby but a way of life for these extreme coupon clippers and they spend the amount of time equivalent of a full-time job to prepare for their shopping spree. The reward is magnificent, where they often walk out of a supermarket saving 90 to 100% of their total grocery bills. It’s very typical to see people walk out with $600-plus worth of groceries without paying a dime … or even a penny!

I must admit that the show fascinates me and disgusts me all at the same time. While it is unbelievably refreshing to discover that someone has finally found the way to completely manipulate the system, it troubles me to see such excessive behaviors. Really, who needs 100 bottles of laundry detergents, 500 cans of soda, 100 boxes of cereal, and other mostly unhealthy, processed food items in their garage-turned mini mart? I feel like there isn’t much difference between extreme couponers and hoarders. The only differences, maybe, are that the latter is super organized and they don’t have 20 dead cats in the house. But excess is still an excess and it is very disturbing. Good thing the show “Intervention” is right around the corner on A&E.

Although I won’t be spending 40 hours a week clipping coupons and comparing prices on a jar of peanut butter from store to store, the show did have one positive impact. It made me realize that I need to rethink my own shopping behaviors. I think there are two things that I need to constantly remind myself of: 1. Plan ahead to reduce food going to waste; and 2. Cook at home to save money. So, here’s my first attempt at dining at home and using up everything I have in the fridge and the pantry.  This Chapchae recipe is so easy and you don’t even have to go dumpster diving for it!

Chapchae, Korean-style noodle and vegetables
Serves 2

This is where I apologize in advance. Although Korean cuisine is one of my favorites, I don’t have much background knowledge on it; therefore, I might have butchered the culinary tradition by making my version of this popular noodle dish, like the way Rachael Ray does with all her “ethnic” dishes. If I offended any hardcore Korean cooks or Korean food lovers, I am very sorry. redface


4 oz (or half package) Harusame noodle (this is the Japanese version of the Korean glass noodle)
5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped
½ onion, sliced
Small ginger (maybe ½ the size of your thumb), finely chopped
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, julienned
½ green pepper, julienned
3 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoons agave nectar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup of water from shiitake mushroom reconstitution
Sesame oil
1 tablespoon Doenjan, or Korean soy paste
Salt and pepper to taste


Mix soy sauce, mirin, sake, agave nectar, Daenjan, sesame oil, and vinegar in a bowl and set aside. Cook harusame per instruction on package (usually boiling noodle in bubbling hot water like pasta). When cooked, set the noodle aside. It’s best to stop cooking when the noodle is still a bit coarse. You will have a chance to cook them some more in a sauce later.

Heat a separate medium-size pan and sauté all vegetables, garlic, and ginger with sesame oil until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cooked noodle into the vegetable mix. Pour the sauce mixture and cook until the liquid is completely gone. You can serve immediately or serve chilled. I like to pour some more vinegar and a dollop of hot sauce.  Enjoy.

I Eat, Therefore, I Run: Hodori Korean Restaurant

stuff 004I am fascinated with running the way teenage girls are obsessed with becoming a cheerleader. I think about it all the time, daydream about running like a Kenyan, and I even find myself staring at runners as I drive by local parks or running tracks. I read a bunch of running and marathon books and I even watch high school track meets on television. Then why is it that, with such deep admiration I have for the sport, I still have difficulty putting on a pair of Asics and hitting the pavement? Perhaps it’s the “idea” of running that I am in love with, and not the actual, physical aspect of the sport. Or maybe it’s just pure laziness (oh my gosh, had I turned into one of those annoyingly gluttonous sports fans who scream at the TV screen while sitting around on the couch with a bucket of hot wings?). Whatever the reason, it is about to change!

marathon guide coverI made a commitment to finally turn my running life around by sticking to a regular training program to ready myself for the Los Angeles Marathon in March. This time, it’s for real. No more lame excuses on why I can’t get my lazy butt off the couch. I’m going to do this, and I’ve decided to cherish the journey along the way. I suppose I’m one of the few people who does this in reverse. While people make the commitment first and train for the marathon, I completed the marathon and made a commitment. I think running the marathon in Portland earlier this month made me respect the race even more, and made me fall in love like I never thought I could.

The training I selected is based on the book, The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, written by three coaches who teach a highly successful 16-week marathon class at University of Northern Iowa. I’ve had this book for a while and after sampling other books and marathon programs for beginners, I found this to be the most appropriate for my physical level. The book is a little text heavy but it contains valuable information about training your mind and body for the 26.2-mile run.

To kick-start my new found commitment, I participated in Nike Human 10K Race last weekend, running around the USC campus at midnight with thousands of other insane runners in Los Angeles. The race was particularly enjoyable because I got to run with 20 or so of my sister’s running friends who were very kind, welcoming and full of endorphin-charged energy! I had a strong 6.2-mile run and afterward, a group of us went out for a very late supper at Hodori, an all-night Korean diner on Olympic and Vermont, to celebrate our recent accomplishments.

Hodori restaurant

It has been more than a decade since my crazy days of partying until a crack of dawn and dashing to Fred’s or Canter’s to recover from excess drinking, but sitting at a diner at 3:00 a.m. surrounded by a bunch of boys and girls reminded me of the good old days as a wee 20-something. I think it’ll be another 10 years until I would be out this late again, but it certainly made me feel a little young at heart!

Hodori banchan
Who needs a cup of coffee to keep you awake when you have spicy plates of banchan to provide some kick?

Hodori soup
Dumplings and Rice Cakes in Beef Broth for me … delicious 🙂

Hodori hot soup
Yook Gae Jiang — a fire-ry soup! 😈

Hodori Soontofu
Spicy Soft Tofu — like chicken soup for a tired (and sleepy) body!

If nothing else, delicious food after a run should motivate me to commit to running. My new motto in life should be, “I eat, therefore, I run.” 😆

Hodori Korean Restaurant
1001 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA

Ox Soup for Your Soul: Gam Mee Ok, New York City

korean-nyWhile looking through my trusted guidebook trying to figure out what to eat for dinner, I came across Gam Mee Ok in New York’s Koreatown on 32nd Street that received some impressive reviews on its Sul Lung Tang, a milky soup made from cooking ox bones for many hours. Although I had never heard of the dish before, I wanted to give it a try since it sounded like an ideal dish to settle my tired stomach after overdosing on meat in Brazil.

korean-ny-2It was only a short, 10-block walk to the restaurant from the hotel, and when I got there, I noticed that everyone – and I mean EVERYONE– was enjoying Sul Lung Tang and nothing else, despite the fact that it did offer other Korean staples like Bibim Bap and Bulgogi. I knew then that this soup has got to be delicious.

And delicious it was. When you first get the soup, it comes completely unseasoned. Only flavor you taste is the rich, deep flavor of the broth made of bones — very similar to the milky consistency of the tonkotsu ramen broth. You can season the soup with salt and pepper, and sprinkle some scallions for added richness. Every sip was divine and heavenly, and the noodle and rice inside the soup was hearty enough to satisfy even the hungriest souls.

korean-ny-3The plate of kimchi that accompanied the soup was as impressive. It had the distinct sourness that only comes from fermenting the napa cabbage masterfully, and the spiciness truly complimented the simple but robust flavor of Sul Lung Tang.

I’d better look for a restaurant that serves as good a Sul Lung Tang in Los Angeles before I start experiencing some serious withdrawals!

Gam Mee Ok
43 W. 32nd (between 5th and 6th Avenues), New York, New York

If There’s a Will, There’s an “A”: Young Dong Tofu

young-dong-1I must have been in sixth grade, when I got my book report I had written back from my English teacher. The paper had a big “C” written in red ink but was later crossed out, and replaced by an “A.” Next to it, she had left a comment that read, “I changed the grade because I wanted to reward you for what you know, instead of penalizing you for what you haven’t yet learned.” The English language was still very new to me then and I could not structure a sentence worth a damn, but she decided to focus on my potential instead of dwelling on the limitation. I frankly don’t remember much from my junior high days (thank goodness … can you say, “neon”?) but I’ll never forget my English teacher and the way she approached life. That’s how I now approach my life as well — or at least I try to look at a glass half full (as much as I can). And the way I approach my new vegetarian lifestyle is no exception.

When I tell people that I have given up eating meat, the first reaction is usually, “then what the f#%# do you eat?” I would have probably asked the same question a few months ago but now that I’m aware of all the possibilities that’s out there in the culinary world that doesn’t necessary involve meat, I can smile and answer, “everything.”

One thing I didn’t want to become was one of those annoying vegetarians who refuse to eat anything, or someone who always complains that there’s nothing on the menu that they can eat. Sure, it may be a little difficult to find something to eat at a steakhouse, but I’m telling you, if there’s a will (and a little creativity), there’s a way. Just because I gave up meat, that doesn’t stop me from frequenting, say, Korean restaurants to enjoy the delicious food I’ve always loved and enjoyed.


Speaking of Korean restaurants, Young-Dong Tofu in Arcadia that is famous for dundubu Jigae (tofu hot pot) deserves an “A” in my book. I ordered the tofu soup with seasonal mushroom and vegetable bibimbap, and enjoyed the endless plates of banchan.  And everything was delicious, satisfying and simply heavenly.


Instead of focusing on things I cannot eat, I look at all the wonderful ingredients that are available – wonderful selection of mushrooms; fresh, seasonal root vegetables; pickled everything – and savor them. Once you open up your eyes to the possibilities, you’ll quickly realize that the sky is the limit.

Life is definitely a glass half full. Or in this case, my stomach completely full.

Young Dong Tofu Restaurant
1311 S. Baldwin Avenue, #B, Arcadia, CA 91066