One, because it was a semi-birthday party for her (she already had one lunch-time get-together the weekend before but I missed it due to a previously scheduled interview for work).
Two, because I love Kapua and I hardly ever get to see her anymore since we graduated.
And three, because she said they were having Korean barbecue, something I had only heard of and never tasted.
The Hungry Bunch outside Tahoe Galbi in L.A. on Wilshire. I stick out like sore thumb, don't I?
I actually first heard of it while working at Angeleno magazine in L.A. As an intern, I did a lot of fact-checking and one story was on Korean BBQ. But the people who work at these places don't really like to talk to reporters-- they are a little suspicious of our intentions-- or speak English very well, so I had to go visit the three restaurants we reviewed in person to look at the menu and make sure our story was accurate. But I digress...
Anyhow, it was a feast for the eyes and the palette. If you have never been to Korean BBQ before, there is a grill in the middle of each table which you use to cook your own food! So, as you can imagine, it is very interactive. And communal. Great for a group of friends that are really REALLY hungry.
Grill top at Tahoe Galbi surrounded by plates of banchan. Cooking up some galbi (or kalbi).
We had the all-you-can-eat lunch for about $20 a person, which is a good deal if you are as ravenous as my group seemed to be. They kept ordering more and more! But hey, why not when it's all-you-can-eat, right? Gotta get your money's worth.
There are a number of Korean BBQs to choose from in Los Angeles, most of them in Koreatown, but we went to Tahoe Galbi. Right when we sat down, the server brought out a bunch of little white plates of various of dishes that I didn't recognize. Turned out, it's called banchan (or panchan)-- Korean side dishes or appetizers. My favorite banchan was a yummy pan-fried patty. Not sure what was in it, but I tried looking it up and it might have been something called Donggeurang ttaeng, a patty made with tofu and meat and vegetables, coated with eggs and pan-fried. It is a type of jeon, according to Wikipedia. Not the most reliable source, but there you have it. Whatever it was, it was delish.
There also was kimchi (pickled cabbage), Korean-style potato salad, bean sprouts, steamed egg, some kind of broccoli-something (I didn't actually try this) and a tofu soup (not sure about this either, no one at the table ate it). There was a big bowl of green salad to pass, too. And of course, we ordered some white rice. Mmmm, I love rice. With soy sauce.
Some banchan. That is the tofu soup that we didn't try.
But the star of the meal is the meat. My table had the beef brisket, galbi (marinated beef short ribs) and pork belly, which is kind of like thick bacon. Chicken is on the menu, too, we just didn't order it. Well, I didn't order anything. I left that up to my more-experienced friends. And boy can they order. There is a little button on the table to ring for your server-- how ingenious, right?-- but I think ours wanted to kill us by the end because we kept asking for more meat, more rice, more water, more rice paper.... Don't worry, we left a good tip.
Sizzling pork belly. Like bacon, it is good to eat but not good for you.
Once the meat was cooked-- I liked the brisket best-- I was told to wrap it in a thin sheet of rice paper for dipping in one of two kinds of sauces. This wrapping is easier said than done-- I am not too handy with the chopsticks! But I sure did try. And when all else failed, my fingers were pretty good tools! My friend Andrea said I was making such neat little packages. I said it was because if I didn't, the meat would just slip right out of my not-so-tight chopstick grip. I could have always asked for a fork, but I wanted the total experience, even if it meant having to work for my food.
All in all, lunch was a blast. Everyone sitting around a grill, cooking up food, sharing banchan... And you can't be shy at Korean BBQ, just take your chopsticks and dig in. I will definitely say "yes" if invited again to K-Town.
As Kapua told me at lunch, she brings more culture into my life. Thank you for that, my love.
So dear readers, have you tried Korean barbecue? Did you like it? Share your stories with me!
Tahoe Galbi photos by Kevin Cheng for LAist.com