anchovy kal gook soo

anchovy kal gook soo

Mee Hoon Kway is to me as the madeleine is to Proust, but after so many years, I’ve given up searching for a bowl of passable mee hoon kway in this country. It is impossible to find that many restaurants that serve the rustic hand-made noodles in a rich and salty pork/anchovy based broth, much less tasty versions complete with all the requisite toppings of fragrant fried onions and crispy dried anchovies. However, with  Kal Gook Soo, I might have found mee hoon kway’s Korean soul sister.

For a hearty bowl of kal gook soo in the city, one turns to the newly opened Arirang, a specialist in handmade noodles, perched on the 3rd floor of a nondescript building on 32nd street. It was hidden well and took me awhile to find my way up the stairs where I met Goh Siew for our Sunday lunch.

Being our first visit, we both picked noodles, although Arirang’s menu does diversify somewhat beyond the obligatory bowl of kal gook soo, but is in no way as expansive as the regular Ktown restaurant. The noodles come 2 ways, either hand-cut into long, uniform strands, or hand torn into irregular flat pieces (su jea bee) just like my beloved mee hoon kway.  Order both in the same bowl to figure out which one you love best. 5 types of broth are available, chicken, anchovy,  seafood, vegetable and kimchi. Goh Siew picked the chicken broth, and the steaming bowl of soup was a milk white broth that thickened as the noodles soaked, and had a very pure taste of poultry. I decided to challenge my childhood tastebuds and ordered the anchovy based soup, anchovy soup being one that I seriously detested growing up, especially when it came with gummy mee sua and overboiled sweet potato leaves. Thankfully, my tastebuds have grown up, and I now can appreciate the faint seafood flavor and umami of the anchovies. Thankfully too, for the absence of the little fish. In the giant bowl of soup laid a neverending supply of noodles, its texture slightly thicker but 90% like mee hoon kway, a little chewy but mostly yielding to the bite. It was such a delight.

Arirang

32 W 32nd St (3rd Floor)

http://www.chow.com/photos/278243

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A boiling cauldron of sundubu
A boiling cauldron of sundubu

Cold, frigid winter, meet your arch nemesis, the bubbling hot casserole of Korean tofu stew, the formidable sundoobu. At BCD Tofu house in Ktown, one can order sundubu multiple ways, with pork, beef, the broth kimchied and dumplinged. I choose the unconventionally sludgey curry tofu because I knew no one else would, and I got a pot of soft beancurd cubes bubbling away in a gooey brown sauce that is thinner than the regular japanese curry, but not by much. It is tasty, but next time I am opting for the regular broth, the blood red witches’ brew that promises burnt tongues and numbing heat. The menu suggests that no MSG has been added and despite it, the soup is meaty and flavorful, the pork and beef versions superior to the seafood, because the shellfish tasted frozen.

Like other Korean restaurants, the meal came with a full suite of panchan, Korean side dishes. The most unusual side dish must be the whole fried pollock, one each for everyone that orders sundubu. A little salty on its own, it was tasty mixed with rice. We could not resist the siren call of fried dough, and both times I’ve visited in as many weeks, we ordered the seafood pancake, BCD’s a worthy version that was crisp, not greasy, and came with good filling-dough ratio.

Apparently I am not the only one with hot tofu stew in mind these days, and last Friday, the restaurant was a madhouse. While the decor is more modern than its neighbors, the service was the same, i.e. harried and brusque. Still, when in need of a spicy antidote to winter blues, this isn’t a bad place to be.

BCD Tofu House

 17 W32nd St

www.bcdtofu.com