Why Chinese/Taiwanese Like Korean Food
When people eat Korean food, they usually expect to see some panchan, or small side dishes, that accompany the main courses. This is all good. But I don’t remember panchan being the dominant reason for going to Korean restaurants. In fact, eating in Korean restaurants as a kid in Korea, there are sometimes when you don’t get any panchan at all. It all depended on what main courses you ordered. I can’t recall exactly which but I think things like naeng myun (cold buckwheat noodle) did not come with any panchan.
But nowadays in the US, it seems that for some Chinese/Taiwanese people at least, the panchan can be the deal-breaker. People will judge and go to a particular Korean restaurant based on the offering of the panchan there. I’m not sure if any Korean restaurant owners are reading, but it would be good business to have the most panchan available in order to attract more potential customers.
Note that I said, most, not best variety, of panchan. Because it also seems to me that certain panchan courses are more popular with the Chinese-descendant crowd. Things such as tempura (the fish cake/odeng kind, not fried Japanese kind) and chapchae (mixed mung bean thread noodles) are a must. Chinese people love these. Perhaps part of the reason is they’re very similar or are based upon similar Chinese dishes. Others like roasted kim (seaweed), spicy anchovies, etc. are also favorites. So don’t just bring out 10 different kinds of kimchee and dukkwang (spicy radish cubes), instead have as much of the tempura and chapchae as possible.
And extra bonus will be given to those places that serve a small dish of pajun (pancake) cut into squarish pieces. Nowadays it is more rare to see this, but sometimes one might get lucky and get some. The last place I had some was at Manna in Newark before the ownership change.
For those who like to try making things at home, the noodles used in chapchae is called “tang myun” in Korean. It comes from the words “唐麵” because it originally came from China. You can buy these in big bags in all the Korean grocery stores. Some will even have the Chinese characters on the package. But making it taste the same as the restaurant is another story.
Make sure not to buy the similarly packaged Korean naeng myun noodles, which are marked as cold buckwheat noodle or Korean pasta noodles.
And for the other popular Korean dish, the seafood pa-jun, it can also be made at home by buying the pre-mixed flour. Bags of the ready-made flour mixtures are also sold at all the Korean groceries (even 99 Ranch). Just look for the picture of the pancake on the usually yellowish colored bag. Again, don’t get mixed up (pun intended) with the panko/breadcrumb batter mix in the same section.
The flavor is very much the same as the ones sold at the restaurant. However, you need to get all the other ingredients such as seafood, shrimp, squid, scallion, etc. and mix them with water and the flour. Afterwards it’s a simple matter of pan-frying the pancake-mixure like batter until golden brown.
If you’re looking for some Korean groceries, see my post below: Santa Clara Asian Grocery, Bakery, Deli Roundup